Cari Searcy, left, and Kim McKeand, who legally married six years ago in California, are pictured with their son Khaya Searcy, 8, on Tuesday November 11, 2014 in Mobile, Ala. State officials, citing Alabama’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, denied Searcy’s second-parent adoption of the child. (Sharon Steinmannfirstname.lastname@example.org)
A federal judge in Mobile on Friday struck down Alabama’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that a woman could not be denied her desire for a second-parent adoption of a 9-year-old boy whom she has helped raise since birth.
U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade ruled that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act and the amendment that later enshrined it in the state constitution both were unconstitutional.
“It’s amazing. I was not expecting it at all (on Friday). Happy, happy news. I kind of expected them to sit on it because of the Supreme Court,” said Cari Searcy, one of the plaintiffs. “It’s so encouraging that we got a positive ruling from our home state.
“Love did win,” she added.
David Kennedy, an attorney for Mobile residents Searcy and Kim McKeand, praised the ruling.
“We’re obviously quite pleased with it,” he said. “It was the ruling that, frankly, we expected.”
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office indicated it would continue to fight the case. Late Friday, attorneys filed papers in court asking the judge to put the decision on hold.
Read Judge Granade’s ruling here
“We are disappointed and are reviewing the Federal District Court’s decision,” spokesman Mike Lewis said via email. “We expect to ask for a stay of the court’s judgment pending the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling which will ultimately decide this case.”
Other challenges pending
It is the first of several pending same-sex marriage cases in Alabama to be ruled on. The decision adds to a growing list of decisions across the country in favor of same-sex marriage.
“Careful review of the parties’ briefs and the substantial case law on the subject persuades the Court that the institution of marriage itself is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, and that the State must therefore convince the Court that its laws restricting the fundamental right to marry serve a compelling state interest,” Granade wrote in her 10-page order.
If Grande agrees to put the case on hold, Searcy will have to wait until the high court rules before she can become a legal parent to the boy. If the judge refuses, than Searcy could begin that process immediately.
Kennedy said his interpretation is that same-sex couple also would be able to marry statewide.
“Love did win.” — Cari Searcy
An attorney for April Brush and Ginger Aaron, the plaintiffs in one of the Alabama same-sex marriages that has yet to be decided, predicted a similar outcome.
“It’s so exciting. Precedence from the same state should have a compelling impact on our case in the Northern District,” said the attorney, Wendy Brooks Crew. “This judge clearly recognizes that family is family and that marriage is a fundamental right to all Americans – black, white, gay or straight and there is no compelling state interest to say otherwise.”
The judge’s ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a same-sex marriage case that supporters and opponents, alike, hope will settle the question once and for all.
The high court surprised many observers in October when it declined to hear appeals from a number of states. At the time, every appellate court that had considered the issue had ruled in favor of same-sex plaintiffs.
But the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned lower court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee in November. The Supreme Court announced last week that it would review that case.
Granade, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, wrote that she considered the arguments of the Sixth Circuit but found more persuasive the legal reasoning of four other appellate courts in favor of same-sex marriage. She rejected Alabama’s argument that it has a legitimate interest in protecting ties between children and biological parents.
“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,” the judge wrote. “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.”
Granade wrote that if anything, the state’s same-sex marriage ban detracted from its stated goal of providing the optimal environment for children. The children of same-sex parents are “just as worth of protection and recognition” by the state as the children of heterosexual parents, she wrote.
“In sum, the laws in question are an irrational way of promoting biological relationships in Alabama,” the ruling states.
Searcy and McKeand sued last year after Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, citing the state’s gay marriage ban, rejected Searcy’s adoption petition. They had been legally married in California.
Both sides in the case agreed that the petition would have been granted as a matter of routine if Searcy and McKeand had been a heterosexual married couple.
Kennedy, the women’s lawyer, said he would ask Granade not to stay the ruling so that his clients can follow through with the adoption immediately.
“Justice delayed is not really something we’re interested in,” he said. “We’re of the opinion that our clients have been waiting for a very long time.”
National, local reaction
Granade’s ruling drew cheers from gay marriage supporters nationally and in downtown Mobile and jeers from opponents.
“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,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Ben Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama, said in a statement that he was thankful the state’s “irrational” marriage law had been struck down.
“I am positive with this landmark decision there will be many questions,” he stated. “Yet opportunities now to reinforce and bring Alabama among its fellow states where equality is undeniably a reality.”
I am positive with this landmark decision there will be many questions. Yet opportunities now to reinforce and bring Alabama among its fellow states where equality is undeniably a reality.
At the Flip Side, the gay bar on South Conception Street in Mobile, many patrons welcomed the news.
Bob Brunson, the bartender, called the ruling “an awesome thing” and said he knows the couple personally.
“We’ve fought this battle for so many years,” Brunson said. “I think it’s incredible and very exciting, one step closer to equal rights.”
Dewayne Kemp, 42, called the decision a step forward.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It’s going to happen when the U.S. Supreme Court votes it in. I don’t look to Alabama or Mississippi or Louisiana to vote it in.”
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, blasted the ruling.
“It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Act,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Legislature will encourage a vigorous appeals process, and we will continue defending the Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live.”
Source: Al.com, “Federal judge strikes down Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban,” By January 23, 2015 at 5:56 PM, updated January 24, 2015 at 7:33 AM
Updated at 6:07 p.m. with comments from Searcy, Kennedy and the Attorney General’s Office. Updated at 7:05 p.m. with additional reaction to the ruling and at 7:30 p.m. with comments form Wendy Brooks Crew. Updated at 9:44 p.m. to embed the judge’s written order.
Reporters Kent Faulk and Casey Toner contributed to this report.