Judge strikes down Alabama gay marriage ban: Three things to know

The Deep South state has just legalized same-sex marriage. What's next in the big debate?

Rob Carr/AP/File
Cari Searcy, left, and Kim McKeand pose for a portrait with their son Khaya in Mobile, Ala in 2006. Alabama became the latest state to see its ban on gay marriage fall to a federal court ruling Friday, Jan. 23, as the issue of same-sex marriage heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

US District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ruled that the 2006 Sanctity of Marriage Amendment – which prohibited gay marriage in the state of Alabama – violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

The decision was a clear win for Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, the Mobile, Ala., couple who challenged the state’s refusal to recognize their 2008 marriage in California.

"They are ecstatic,” Christine Cassie Hernandez, a lawyer representing the couple, told the Associated Press. “They are over-the-top happy about the ruling.”

What does this decision mean for the nation’s marriage rights debate? Here are three things to know:

This fits a legal trend

Over the past year and a half, the US Supreme Court made several decisions that forced lower courts to strike down gay marriage bans in a series of states. These include the 2013 ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act – the law preventing the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage legalized by the states – was unconstitutional; and the October 2014 decision to deny appeals to hear seven same-sex marriage cases in five states.

Other Southern states that have recognized gay marriage include the Carolinas, Virginia, and Mississippi. Earlier this month, Florida became the 36th US state to legalize gay marriage, making Alabama number 37.

Gay marriage and children

Part of the reason Alabama couple Searcy and McKeand decided to get married in the first place was so they could become legal parents to their son, according to the Associated Press.

Adoption laws in some states allow married gay couples to become lawful, joint parents of an adopted child. Some argue, however, that children of gay couples fare worse than kids raised by heterosexual parents.

After same-sex marriage was legalized in his home country of Argentina, Pope Francis spoke against gay marriage and adoption in behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, saying that gay couples who took in children threatened the survival of the family.

“At stake,” the Pope said at the time, “are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God.”

But in Alabama, Federal Justice Granade (who was nominated by George W. Bush in 2001) wrote:

If anything, Alabama’s prohibition of same-sex marriage detracts from its goal of promoting optimal environments for children. Those children currently being raised by same-sex parents in Alabama are just as worthy of protection and recognition by the State as are the children being raised by opposite-sex parents. Yet Alabama’s Sanctity laws harms the children of same-sex couples for the same reasons that the Supreme Court found that the Defense of Marriage Act harmed the children of same-sex couples.

The ruling could be put on hold

On Friday evening, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange filed a motion asking Granade to put the decision on hold until the US Supreme Court makes its final ruling, the Associated Press reported.

"[T]he State of Alabama will suffer irreparable harm if marriages are recognized on an interim basis that are ultimately determined to be inconsistent with Alabama law, resulting in confusion in the law and in the legal status of marriages," representatives from the attorney general's office wrote in the appeal

The high court is currently poised to make a nationwide decision on same-sex couples’ fundamental right to marry, setting the stage for a definitive ruling by late June.

Granade has not yet responded to the appeal.

In the meantime, supporters of the ban intend to make their voices heard. In a statement, Republican Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard said:

“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. 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."

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