The reaction to last week’s announcement from Alabama’s political leaders was predictable.
Gov. Robert Bentley, via a spokeswoman, promised to “fight” the lawsuit, adding, “Like most Alabamians, the governor strongly believes in the traditional definition of marriage, as being between a man and woman.”
House Speaker Mike Hubbard announced, “This lawsuit is part of a coordinated liberal agenda that is designed to erode the conservative Alabama values that the citizens of our state hold close to their hearts.”
When discussing same-sex marriage in the abstract, such remarks are pretty much the norm from Alabama’s conservative politicians. If anyone among the state’s elected leadership offered even a hint of sympathy to the plight of the plaintiff, we missed it.
The details of the man who is suing the state removes this issue from the abstract, putting before the state a reality complete with human beings and that most human of emotions, love.
Paul Hard, a university professor in Montgomery, and Charles David Fancher, an IT director for a Birmingham-based company, were married in May 2011. The service was in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal.
Three months later, Fancher was involved in an automobile accident. When Hard was alerted of the accident by a local hospital, he rushed there with important documents, including the couple’s marriage license.
That marriage license was no match for Alabama’s Defense of Marriage Act, which expressly forbids recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. In dealings with the hospital, Hard alleges he was was kept at arm’s length by administrators who told him, “We don’t recognize gay marriage here.” An attendant, and not a physician, coldly broke the news to Hard that his spouse was dead.
That was just the beginning. Hard encountered problems with Fancher’s death certificate, which listed him as never married. He can’t legally claim any proceeds from a wrongful-death suit brought against the drivers involved in the traffic fatality. As far as the state is concerned, the union between two Alabama men in their 50s never existed.
“It just feels like people are trying to erase what was between David and I,” Hard told Huffington Post. “Like it was a non-marriage; it was nothing.”
Though they may not yet realize it, Bentley, who is named in Hard’s lawsuit (and by extension the state’s elected leadership), has been dealt a losing hand.
The suit tests these politicians’ sense of compassion. Are they so opposed to marriage equality that they can’t even offer a hint of emotion about a tragedy? We’d doubt anyone, regardless of his or her views of same-sex marriage, could be so callous as to not sympathize with Hard’s plight.
At the end of the day, these are the lives of Mr. Hard and Mr. Fancher, and they could live them as they wished — freedom, the pursuit of happiness and all that. Who has that much cold blood in their veins to bar Hard from being with his loved one in his final moments? Or, who could deny a simple designation of “spouse” on a final document?
Yet, Bentley and Alabama are in the unenviable position of having to do just that.