MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — 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 2008 marriage performed in California. The ruling is the latest in a string of wins for advocates of marriage rights. Judges have also struck down bans in several other Southern states, including the Carolinas, Florida, Mississippi and Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court announced this month that it will take up the issue of whether gay couples have a fundamental right to marry and if states can ban such unions.
Alabama plaintiffs Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand have been a couple for more than 14 years and have an 8-year-old son together who was conceived with the help of a sperm donor. They filed a federal lawsuit after a court refused to recognize Searcy as the adoptive parent of the boy because they were not spouses under Alabama law.
"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 they were surprised that the decision came down so soon.
Granade enjoined Strange from enforcing the bans, raising the question of whether the gay and lesbian couples could begin seeking marriage licenses.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange quickly filed a motion Friday evening asking the judge to put the decision on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling.
Lawyers for the state argued there would be widespread confusion if "marriages are recognized on an interim basis that are ultimately determined to be inconsistent with Alabama law."
Alabama has two laws banning gay marriage, a state statute and a constitutional amendment called the "Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment" that was approved by 81 percent of state voters in 2006. Granade said both were in violation of the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
The ruling was met with elation from advocates of marriage rights but outrage from some conservatives in the Deep South state.
"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," Republican Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard said in a 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."
A group working for gay rights across the country called the ruling historic.
"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," said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.
Granade rejected arguments from Alabama that the state had an interest in promoting marriage between men and women for the benefit of children. She said the children of gay couples are "just as worthy of protection and recognition by the State as are the children being raised by opposite-sex 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," Granade wrote.