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Federal Judge Strikes Down Alabama Marriage Ban, Provides No Stay

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Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, with their son K.S.
Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, with their son K.S. | FREEDOM TO MARRY
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | A federal judge in Alabama has struck down that state’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples and its prohibition on recognition of such marriages from out-of-state.In a January 23 ruling, Judge Callie V.S. Granade, appointed to the Southern District of Alabama bench by President George W. Bush, found that the state “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.”The ruling came in a suit brought by Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, who married in California and are seeking recognition from the State of Alabama. They are represented by Mobile attorneys Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy.Granade granted the couple’s motion for summary judgment –– and did not stay her ruling pending the state's appeal –– and though her opinion was relatively brief, it took careful account of major recent developments in other federal courts.Confronting, first, the argument that the district court did not have jurisdiction because the Supreme Court, in 1972, denied a marriage equality case from Minnesota due to the lack of a “substantial federal question,” she found arguments made last year by the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and 10th Circuits compelling on that point –– that legal developments in the intervening 43 years had rendered that precedent moot. Granade specifically rejected the conclusion of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which relied on the 1972 precedent to overturn gay marriage wins in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio.The 2013 Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, she noted, upheld a Second Circuit decision that had explicitly rejected the 1972 precedent.In examining Alabama’s marriage ban, Granade took the approach endorsed by the Fourth and 10th Circuits, noting Supreme Court precedents finding that the right to marry is fundamental and can only be abridged for a compelling government purpose. From that perspective, any restriction on that right would have to be “narrowly tailored” to meet the government interest.“Defendant contends that Alabama has a legitimate interest in protecting the ties between children and their biological parents and other biological kin,” Granade wrote. “However, the court finds that the laws in question are not narrowly tailored to fulfill the reported interest. 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 didn’t stop there. The ban undermines the interests of Alabama’s children, she found.“If anything, Alabama’s prohibition of same-sex marriage detracts from its goal of promoting optimal environments for children,” Granade wrote. The ban “harms the children of same-sex couples for the same reasons that the Supreme Court found that the Defense of Marriage Act harmed the children of same-sex couples. Such a law ‘humiliates… thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.’”Far from offering a compelling justification for its same-sex marriage ban, Alabama could not even provide a rational basis for it.“For these reasons, the court finds that Alabama’s marriage laws violate the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constituti­on,” Granade wrote.Making no mention of whether the state had sought a stay of a pro-equality ruling, Granade concluded, “It is further ordered that the defendant is enjoined from enforcing those laws.”Same-sex couples, therefore, are now free to marry in Alabama.Both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, under whose jurisdiction the Southern District of Alabama is, and the Supreme Court earlier declined to stay a federal marriage equality ruling in Florida, where marriages began on January 6. Unless a different panel of 11th Circuit judges okays a stay and/ or the Supreme Court now takes a different view because of its January 16 decision to review the Sixth Circuit cases, marriage equality in Alabama will likely begin when government offices open on Monday.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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