With no specific recognition of a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down same-sex marriage bans nationwide, the marriage license windows at the Mobile County Probate Court opened for all couples a few hours after the ruling was handed down.
The ruling was the summation of many civil lawsuits from several states. On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case originating in Ohio. In January, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Obergefell along with three other cases from Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The questions posed by the court dealt with the constitutionality of marriage bans broadly. Prior to today’s decision, marriage equality had come to 37 states as well as the District of Columbia – representing more than 70 percent of the U.S. population.
The final ruling overturned bans on same-sex marriage and outlawed those remaining in 14 states. It passed with a 5-4 vote. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, addressed the balance between civil rights and religious freedom that has become part of the debate.
“Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here,” the majority opinion reads. “But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”
Though their case wasn’t reviewed specifically by the supreme court, Mobile same-sex couple Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand had a very vested interest in the ruling. Their case — Searcy v. Strange — initially overturned the state’s longstanding ban on same-sex marriage in January.
However, it was only a few days later that confusion ensued across the state when Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an edict claiming probate judges would be in violation of Alabama law if they performed same-sex marriages.
Then on March 3, the state Supreme Court issued an order to halt all marriages. Since then, Mobile County’s marriage license windows have been closed to all couples — that was until about 11 a.m. on Friday.
“It’s majorly important to us, for family reasons to reaffirm our relationship,” Fey said. “We reaffirm our relationship every day to each other, but to bring it to our families and our friends that we’re legally married and to have this finally coming to fruition is wonderful.”
In Baldwin County, marriage licenses were not issues to same-sex couples on Friday, but an attorney for the Probate office said they would begin issuing licenses to all couples on Monday, June 29.
Fey and Pippin weren’t alone in celebrating. In fact, Searcy admitted she hadn’t even read the ruling, and had spent most of the morning with her wife and the 9-year-old son whose delayed adoption proceedings prompted their initial lawsuit against the state in May 2014.
“Marriage equality harms no one, and it protects family. To me, that lives up to American and family values,” Searcy said. “It’s something we’re very proud to have been a part of — to see the change that’s occurred just since the ruling came out. The community, the families and couples that never thought they would see this day in his home state are now celebrating and stepping up.”
McKeand went on to say she felt their case had changed the energy not just in Mobile, but throughout the state of Alabama. However, they said they wouldn’t being “popping the champagne” to celebrate fully until until their adoption papers are finally signed after “nine and half years of fighting for it.”
In the midst of the debate over state and federal law and their implications on same-sex marriage, Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis recused himself from Searcy’s adoption case in April. Moore is charged with reassigning it to a different judge — something that still hasn’t happened.
Searcy and McKeand were legally married in California in 2006, and since then Searcy has made several attempts to adopt McKeand’s biological son. All of the attempts in local and state courts were denied based on Alabama’s Sanctity of Marriage laws — laws that were overturned by Judge Ginny Granade’s ruling in Searcy v. Strange.
Attorneys Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy have represented the couple throughout their legal proceedings and on Friday, they said their next move was to reach out to Moore’s attorneys in hopes of moving Searcy’s adoption forward.
“He’s nine years old, and halfway through childhood. He deserve to have two legal parents,” Kennedy said. “Judge Davis recused himself eight weeks ago, and we still don’t have a new judge. We’re going to ask for one within the next couple of days and hopefully they can give us a hearing date so this can be over and done with.”
With the law permitting same-sex marriage solidified by the U.S. Supreme Court, both attorneys said the process should be relatively straightforward in the days and weeks ahead. Searcy and McKeand, while expressing happiness in helping “move Alabama forward,” emphasized that their primary interest in the case was their son and his security.
“That’s what we’ve been fighting for this whole time, so he would be legally protected if something were to happen to me,” McKeand said. “It’s such a blessing that without a doubt he is now — no matter what state we travel to.”