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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2015

Same Sex Marriage Heather Fann; Boyd, Fernambucq, Dunn & Fann O B E R G E F E L L A N D A L A B A M A : A Local Lawyer’s Journey Through a Landmark Decision I don’t practice in Mobile; it’s a bit of a haul from Birmingham, and particularly for divorce work. In a practice with wide judicial discretion, your clients generally depend heavily on your personal experience in particular courts and courthouses. And I don’t practice in federal court. I have colleagues that balance diff erent courts often but my practice is pretty concentrated: I handle divorces. And family court, where there are similar issues except often no marriage involved. I’m a child of divorce who got divorced in law school and became a divorce lawyer; I know my business and try to stick to it. But any family lawyer – and I’d guess particularly those with a few personal scars shining from time to time -- will tell you how delicious the too-rare fi nal adoption hearing is. In a world full of what I describe to law students and unfamiliar (read: the never or happily married) lawyers as houses crashing down around clients, being able to hand people a key to a new family and to celebrate right there with them does something truly cleansing for the soul. You’ll often hear us confess that if we had more putting families together to do, we’d weather the day-to-day dismantling much easier. So earlier this year, when the National Center for Lesbian Rights called me to ask if I were interested in serving as local counsel on the Strawser v. Strange case -- the second ruling of U.S. District Judge Callie Granade, on that Monday following the historic January 23rd Searcy v. Strange decision fi nding Alabama’s bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional -- I only hesitated to consider logistics. I have lots of people depending on me these days, not the least of whom is still in diapers. I was mid-way through my fi rst year of partnership and my term as Chair of the Family Law Section of the State Bar. I have clients with houses metaphorically and sometimes even literally crumbling. I had never even applied to any federal court. But I’d co-founded the University of Alabama School of Law’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I’d written an article about homosexual parenting for the Law and Psychology Review, and won a best paper award in my family law class for it. I had built a relatively healthy practice representing homosexual clients both in divorce and post-divorce custody issues. It was like being asked to step into shoes I’d ordered for myself a decade before – though I’m not sure I expected they’d arrive before retirement. My clients’ stories are almost all equally compelling, when they’re boiled down. Th ey’re all trying and alternately succeeding and failing to make their lives work. Th ey’re experiencing heartbreak and frustration and a system that can be diffi cult to navigate even for those of us with the best tools and the longest experience. Th eir most precious things are at stake. While Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand had posed beautifully for pictures with their young son and handled media attention and court hurdles with the able and colorful team of Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy in their quest for recognition of their marriage so that Searcy’s parental rights could be acknowledged through a stepparent adoption of their child, Jim Strawser and John Humphrey had quietly represented themselves in the Southern District, pled their case plainly at trial, and been told that they, too, had a family due recognition. Jim and John each had health issues that lent a sense of urgency to their request. Many of the cases nationwide cited reasons like theirs, and like Cari and Kim’s, as persuasive. Lawyers and civil rights groups in these cases have spent more than a decade investing in the cases with the most compelling facts they can fi nd building toward just this moment in time. We talked in law school about the potential for gay marriage becoming legal 12 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2015
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