By Bob Allen
A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate and one-time Baptist campus minister is suing the state of Alabama for refusing to recognize his legal same-sex marriage performed in another state.
Paul Hard, who earned a master-of-divinity degree from the Southern Baptist Convention-owned seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1985 and a master of arts in 1986, is plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging both a law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage passed by the legislature in 1998 and a Sanctity of Marriage Amendment to the Alabama constitution approved by voters in 2006.
Filed on Hard’s behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the lawsuit says Hard met Charles David Fancher in 2004 and they became a couple. They were legally married in Massachusetts in 2011, but less than three months later Fancher died from injuries received in a car wreck on Interstate 65 north of Montgomery, Ala.
Fancher died during the night of Aug. 1, 2011 after his car slammed into a UPS truck that had overturned and was blocking the northbound traffic lines. He died within 10 minutes of impact.
Fancher left a will naming Hard as his sole beneficiary, but under Alabama law he cannot receive any benefits from a wrongful-death lawsuit currently being pursued by his estate against the trucking companies involved in the accident.
Upon learning that his spouse had been in an accident, Hard says he rushed to the hospital with documents including his marriage license and power of attorney, only to be stopped at a nurse’s station where he was told that only family members were permitted. Hard eventually got cleared to go to the examining room. On the way he asked if Fancher was badly hurt, and the attendant said “Well, he’s dead.”
Hard paid for Fancher’s funeral, but the funeral director wrote “never married” on the death certificate and left blank “surviving” spouse. Hard objected, but the director refused to change it.
Like Fancher, Hard grew up Baptist but is now Episcopalian. He worked as chaplain of Baptist campus ministries at a community college from 1989 till 1991 before pursuing a master’s and Ph.D. in counseling from the University of Alabama. He’s currently an associate professor in counselor education at Auburn University at Montgomery.
The lawsuit says Alabama’s ban on gay marriage denies “same-sex married couples the rights and obligations of marriage that are available to all other married couples” within the state, violating the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
“The purpose and effect of the marriage restrictions is to single out one class of marriages — same sex marriages — and make them unequal,” it says.
The lawsuit further claims the restrictions “target lesbian, gay and bisexual people, by prohibiting recognition of their marriages, consistent with a long history of governmental disfavored treatment of that class.”