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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2015

Same Sex Marraige Obergefell and Alabama continued from page 14 that I was stunned by how artfully they made their demands – such a keen sense of being a worthy part of their country and the rights that they were so certain came along with that. It stirred a pride in my country I’ve rarely so intensely felt. I stood next to Paul Hard, an Alabama Southern Poverty Law Center client whose husband was killed in an accident within months of their marriage in Massachusetts in 2011. Paul had collapsed in a hospital when, upon fi nally being escorted to see his husband after a denial despite a folder full of legal paperwork, he was casually informed of his death. Paul had on February 9th received an amended death certifi cate replacing the blistering “never married” of the initial one and naming him as surviving spouse, but was still awaiting the proceeds of the wrongful death suit. Kim and Cari spoke about their experience in Alabama, of the anxiety of living in all respects as a parent except without legal recognition for the everyday dignity of others’ acknowledgment at schools and hospitals, and a dread that all families feel of exactly the kind of situation Paul had faced, with the additional nightmare of being at the mercy of those who might deny them the moments and decisions that matter most. Th ey represented our state with the grit and grace we’d hope to expect of our own. I was asked via phone by a reporter back home whether I might call it a circus, but I’ve seen sights more worthy of that description in family courts fairly regularly. It wasn’t that, in fairness; that description was for those looking at photos. It was, rather, a blending of voices, sometimes inspiring hope and sometimes dismay. Kim and Cari described running into someone from Alabama who recognized them on their way, “We’re on the other side, but we love you!’ she’d told them, before showing them to the opposite staging area. I saw marriage equality supporters embrace one another warmly, and aggressively wave Human Rights Campaign fl ags in the faces of their opposition. I heard crude commentary describing homosexual sex over bullhorns. I heard a same-sex marriage supporter repeatedly try to shout down the speech of someone in opposition, eff ectively drowning out the supporters’ speaker as well. I saw young men with diff ering opinions engaged in earnest conversation. I heard both sides admitting complexities in the others’ arguments. I saw a 15-year-old daughter of lesbian parents, after much debate regarding whether she should, rather meekly approach a woman holding a sign indicating that children need a mother and a father to ask her what she meant by that, and the sign-holder, though blocking the conversation from view of cameras with her sign, attempting to answer her question. And there were certainly moments of levity that made me proud to be on what I most defi nitely consider to be the right side of history: A slender man gliding past someone shouting the Biblical passage about “knowing them by their fruits” and exclaiming in reply, “I’m fruity!” A choir member’s calm response to his friend’s complaint about one of the microphone barkers was, “It’s his last gasp; let him have it.” And, months later, with a ruling that settles the law of the American land in favor of same-sex marriage, and with a local ruling which in the interim certifi ed a class of plaintiff s (same-sex couples in Alabama wishing to be married or have their marriages recognized) as well as defendant probate judges to be bound by the same principles upheld as constitutionally required by that Supreme Court, we’re all still here. We all still get our opinions. Our state has taken a beating in some national media and been the darling of others. But I am proud to have been even the smallest part (and that I certainly was) of a part of a team of lawyers who directly eff ected change for families I truly believe are (over)due legal protection. And I’m proud of our judges, clerks, and lawyers who have vowed to follow the law as they’re sworn to do. Th e experience has certainly reminded me what an important role lawyers play in the direction of our country and the lives of its citizens, though our reputation is more often for creating or exacerbating problems. In a very strange way, though I’m aware of a deep local divide that is very personal to very many, it has also heightened my respect for all those who have taken action, whatever action that might be. Our Southern path, our American path, is our own, and it is shaped by all those who take part in the democratic process. Our victories and defeats, regardless of who feels which more acutely, belong to all of us. It’s easy, as an ally and advocate who all along had access to any protection I wanted or needed, to be more contemplative than those I have represented about the delay. And God knows we lawyers love to pat ourselves on the back. But, as a person – a Southerner, an American, an activist, and yes – a lawyer, the whole thing really makes me feel a great deal of pride. G 38 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin Fall 2015
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