The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) [advocacy website] on Thursday announced a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] filed in US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama [official website] on behalf of widower Paul Hard [university profile] challenging Alabama's Marriage Protection Act and Sanctity Marriage Amendment (Sanctity Laws) which refuse to recognize same sex marriages performed outside the state. Hard married David Fancher in Massachusetts in 2011, and Fancher died in Alabama [SPLC press release] three months later following a car accident. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed, but Fancher's death certificate [text, PDF] states that he was never married and does not indicate a surviving spouse in accordance with Alabama law. As a result, Hard cannot be the beneficiary of proceeds that may be awarded despite being the sole beneficiary in Fancher's will. In the complaint, SPLC argues:
The United States Supreme Court recently held that the U.S. Constitution does not permit laws that single out a particular class of marriages for disfavored treatment. But that is precisely what the Sanctity Laws do: they single out same-sex marriages and deny to those marriages the same rights and dignity that Alabama affords other marriages. In doing so, the Sanctity Laws violate the right to equal protection and due process, as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The lawsuit was filed in December, but defendants were notified this week.
The legal debates surrounding same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] are some of the most active legal controversies [JURIST op-ed] in the US. Several challenges to state laws have been filed following the Supreme Court's ruling last year [JURIST report] that the federal government cannot refuse to recognize same-sex marriages or deny same sex couples benefits. This week a federal judge ruled Kentucky must recognize out-of-state same sex marriages, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri's ban recognizing out-of-state same sex marriages after filing a similar lawsuit [JURIST reports] last week challenging Wisconsin's ban. Last month the Ohio Attorney General announced he would appeal a Sixth Circuit decision requiring Ohio to recognize same sex marriages and Utah's governor directed his cabinet to put on hold [JURIST reports] any recognition of same sex marriage.