Montgomery widower sues to overturn Alabama's gay marriage ban
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 14, 2014 | 5129 views |  0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Paul Hard was a newlywed, married only two months, when he got the dreaded call.

There'd been an accident on Interstate 65, near Pine Level in Autauga County. He was needed at Prattville Baptist Medical Center right away.

Hard, a Montgomery resident, grabbed a folder containing his marriage license on the way out the door. But when he arrived in Prattville, he said, hospital officials initially wouldn't let him see his spouse no matter how many documents he showed.

"I realize that if I’d lied, if I'd said I was his cousin or his brother or nephew I would have been ushered into the room," Hard said. "But I said 'I'm his husband.' And I got one of those looks."

In a press conference Thursday in front of the federal courthouse in Montgomery, Hard announced that he is suing the state of Alabama to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage. Hard said the ban has kept the state from recognizing his marriage to David Fancher, who was killed in a car accident on Aug. 1, 2011.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley, who is named as a defendant in the suit, said Bentley will “fight the merits of this lawsuit.”

“Like most Alabamians, the governor strongly believes in the traditional definition of marriage, as being between a man and woman,” Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said in an email. “He will work everyday to continue to protect the sanctity of marriage in Alabama.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery-based nonprofit, filed the suit in December on Hard's behalf, but a lawyer for the group said SPLC had not filed notice of the suit with state officials until Thursday.

Hard, a Demopolis native who teaches counseling and psychotherapy at Auburn University Montgomery, married Fancher, who worked in information technology, in May 2011 in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. Both men were in their early 50s at the time.

Despite last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding gay marriage at the federal level, Alabama doesn't recognize same-sex unions, which are banned here both by law and by amendment to the state constitution.

Hard is also seeking legal standing to collect any proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit in Fancher’s death, and seeking an injunction to change Fancher’s death certificate, which now says Fancher was “never married.”

Several similar suits are pending in states across the country where same-sex marriage is banned. A federal court ruled earlier this week that Kentucky must recognize some same-sex marriages, according to the Associated Press. Alabama state Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who married her longtime female partner in Massachusetts last year, has said she also intends to challenge the ban in court.

Hard, who met Fancher online in 2005, said he was initially reluctant to marry. Fancher, who grew up in Alabaster as the son of a preacher, was eager to wed from the beginning. Fancher proposed to him within two months of their first meeting, Hard said, but they lived together six years before Hard said yes. The two traveled to Cape Cod to wed on May 20, 2011.

“David intended to change his name,” Hard said. “You think you’ve got more time. And it was two months.”

Fancher was on his way to work in Birmingham on Aug. 1, 2011, when his car struck an overturned delivery truck in the northbound lanes near Pine Level, according to court documents and statements from Hard. He died within 10 minutes of the accident, according to his death certificate.

At the hospital, Hard claims, staff initially wouldn’t let him in to see Fancher, saying they needed to speak to Fancher’s “real family” first — even though Hard brought documents the two had prepared for just such a case.

Hard claims that when he was cleared to see Fancher about 30 minutes later, an orderly quickly broke the news of Fancher’s death.

“I began to sink,” he said. “My knees went out from under me. And I reached out for support and the orderly stepped away.”

The hospital itself isn’t named as a defendant in the suit. Tommy McKinnon, a spokesman for Baptist Health, which owns Prattville Baptist Medical center, said patient privacy laws prevent the hospital from discussing Hard’s allegations in detail.

“We followed all policies and procedures in the release of the body, as we would with anyone,” he said.

McKinnon said the hospital would be able to comment on the case further if Fancher’s next of kin authorized the release of more information. He said Hard was the person who could authorize that release.

“He is able as the next of kin or the partner in this case,” McKinnon said.

Hard’s attorneys said their real concern is not with the hospital, but with the law that makes Hard’s next-of-kin status questionable in the eyes of officials.

“It’s one example of how an official law has an effect beyond what’s intended,” SPLC lawyer Sam Wolfe said. “People have it in their minds that we don’t recognize gay marriage, but they don’t know what that means.”

Wolfe, contacted Thursday evening after the hospital responded to the suit, said it was unlikely Hard would authorize release of more information about Fancher’s case. He said he doubted those records would speak directly to Hard’s allegations.

“Who knows what their records say, but I doubt there’s a transcript of any conversation that took place that day,” he said.

Like the governor, Attorney General Luther Strange is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, in his official capacity as an enforcer of the gay marriage ban.

“We’re still reviewing and have no comment at this time,” said Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.

Hard said he filed the lawsuit “because nobody should have to go through this.”

“At the worst extreme of our lives, we should be able to expect the compassion and support of our fellow citizens,” he said.

“Southerners have tremendous heart,” he continued. “They are known for their kindness, they are known for their courtesy, they are known for their ethics and they’re known for their humanity. I don’t believe that anybody who witnessed what I went through would simply step back to a legal or a political position.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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