U.S. District Court Judge Callie S. Granade of Alabama’s Southern District effectively overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage today, finding that the constitutionality of the “Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment” and the “Alabama Marriage Protection Act” were unconstitutional on equal protection and due process grounds.
Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, a same-sex couple residing in Mobile County, filed the case last May, seeking an injunction allowing Searcy to legally adopt McKeand’s 9-year-old son.
The couple was legally married in California but the union was never recognized here.
Despite challenges from Attorney General Luther Strange, Granade cited recent, similar cases in other states, finding that in Alabama, “The Attorney General does not explain how allowing or recognizing same-sex marriage between two consenting adults will prevent heterosexual parents or other biological kin from caring for their biological children. He proffers no justification for why it is that the provisions in question single out same-sex couples and prohibit them, and them alone, from marrying in order to meet that goal. Alabama does not exclude from marriage any other couples who are either unwilling or unable to biologically procreate.”
Granade continued, “there is no law prohibiting infertile couples, elderly couples, or couples who do not wish to procreate from marrying. Nor does the state prohibit recognition of marriages between such couples from other states. The Attorney General fails to demonstrate any rational, much less compelling, link between its prohibition and non-recognition of same-sex marriage and its goal of having more children raised in the biological family structure the state wishes to promote. There has been no evidence presented that these marriage laws have any effect on the choices of couples to have or raise children, whether they are same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples. In sum, the laws in question are an irrational way of promoting biological relationships in Alabama.”
In a prepared statement, Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, “Judge Granade’s ruling today affirms what we already know to be true – that all loving, committed Alabama couples should have the right to marry. As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark case on marriage equality, today’s ruling joins the dozens and dozens of others that have recognized that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve equal treatment under the law.”
The statement added that there was no stay placed on the ruling, so in the absence of a successful stay request by the state, couples can begin applying for marriage licenses as soon as clerks offices open.
But Mark Erwin, chief of staff for Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, said the ruling wasn’t so clear.
“We haven’t had a chance to read anything, other than the news reports, we haven’t gotten any word from a legal source like the courts or the state or anywhere else to what they see as the practical aspects of the district court decision,” he said. “We just have to monitor what the parties do in response, and I’m sure we will comply with whatever the actions are.”
Erwin indicated Strange could file a notice of appeal as soon as tomorrow and obtain a stay as soon as Monday, but noted the Attorney General of Florida stood down from a similar ruling there earlier this month, effectively opening probate courts in the Sunshine State to same-sex couples.
“I cant’ imagine the court would deny a stay of implementation of the order, because who wants all that going on administratively with the idea the 11th Circuit (Court of Appeals) could overturn it?”
Erwin also suggested Granade could have made her ruling more clear, “so the world wouldn’t be thrown into questions across the probate courts of Alabama Monday,” but conceded, “I guess she chose not to give the parties the opportunity to argue before the end of the day.”
Erwin said he and Davis had a previously scheduled meeting tomorrow on unrelated matters, but the decision would most likely be a topic of discussion. He withheld any recommendation on whether same-sex couples should make a rush to the courthouse Monday, noting, “we’re an administrative arm, we don’t make the policies, we just follow whatever the policies are.”
Gov. Robert Bentley issued a brief statement expressing disappointment, noting “The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage between man and woman. I’m disappointed by the ruling and will review it.”
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up the issue this term.
Lagniappe will have more on this story as it develops.
(Updated at 9:22 p.m. to add the comments of Mark Erwin and clarify the headline.)
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