MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama became the latest state to see its ban on gay marriage fall to a federal court ruling Friday, as the issue of same-sex marriage heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Callie V.S. Granade ruled in favor of two Mobile women who sued to challenge Alabama's refusal to recognize their marriage performed in California. Alabama was among just 14 U.S. states where gay and lesbian couples were still barred from legally marrying.
Judges have also struck down the ban recently in several other Southern states, including the Carolinas, Florida, and Virginia. The bans have been upheld in Kentucky and Tennessee, two of the cases that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April.
Plaintiffs Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand said that they had been a couple for more than a decade and had a child together with the help of a sperm donor. An Alabama court refused to recognize Searcy as the child's adoptive parent, however, because state law did not recognize the couple as spouses.
"They are ecstatic. They are over-the-top happy about the ruling," said Christine Cassie Hernandez, a lawyer representing the couple.
Hernandez said the couple expected to win in court, but were surprised that the decision came down so soon.
Granade said both an Alabama statute and 2006 amendment to the Alabama Constitution banning gay marriage were in violation of the equal- protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange issued a statement expressing disappointment in the decision and saying the state will seek to put a hold on the decision.
"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," Strange spokesman Mike Lewis said.
Granade enjoined Strange from enforcing the laws and did not put a stay on the decision as has happened in other states.
Hernandez said that means same-sex couples could begin applying for marriage licenses on Monday. She said McKeand and Searcy plan to refile adoption papers next week asking that they both be recognized as parents of their 8-year-old son.
Alabama is the latest of numerous states where federal judges have ruled the bans unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear cases asking it to overturn gay-marriage bans that lower courts have upheld in Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio. The appeals from gay and lesbian plaintiffs are also asking the high court to declare that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry everywhere in the United States.
In Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas, judges have struck down anti-gay marriage laws, but they remain in effect pending appeals.