SPLC Continues to Fight Alabama Policy that Denies Right to Marry

The SPLC filed a second lawsuit today challenging a practice in many Alabama counties that denies undocumented individuals and U.S. citizens whose intended spouses are undocumented their constitutional right to marry. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two couples, including Charelle Loder, a U.S. citizen, and “Jack Doe,” an undocumented immigrant from Haiti.

The lawsuit comes almost a month after the SPLC’s initial legal challenge, which led to 13 Alabama counties either ending the practice or affirming they are abiding by the law and marrying individuals regardless of their immigration status. The initial lawsuit filed in October was brought on behalf of Linda Smith, a U.S. citizen, and “John Doe,” an undocumented immigrant. They were denied the right to marry in Montgomery County Probate Court due to this policy.

Loder and “Jack Doe” are engaged and have lived together in a committed relationship for five years. Doe provides companionship and financial support to Loder and their family, including Loder’s 9-year-old daughter. Doe was born in Haiti but has lived in the U.S. most of his life, and he is the only father Loder’s daughter has known.

The couple wishes to express their love for and commitment to one another by getting married and obtaining the economic, emotional and psychological benefits of marriage. But they can’t obtain a marriage license from Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney’s office or from the offices of a majority of probate judges in Alabama because Doe cannot provide proof of legal residence or a Social Security card.

“We love each other and should be able to get married,” said Loder. “Marriage is an important part of our religious faith. Our parents taught us that marriage helps unite a couple, and we want to be able to complete this traditional step for our parents and our faith.”

In addition to McKinney, the lawsuit is directed at probate judges in the 40 remaining counties who enforce the policy even though it is not required by any federal or state law, including the state’s new anti-immigrant law, HB 56. The lawsuit seeks class action status to represent couples across the state who would be denied a marriage license due to such a policy.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to marry to all people, regardless of immigration status. The lawsuit charges that the Montgomery County Probate Office’s marriage license policy and similar policies in other counties violate the Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses.

“We are encouraged that some counties are abandoning this misguided policy, but we will not stop fighting until all Alabama counties end this practice,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the SPLC.

The lawsuit cites a 2004 opinion from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office that states “a marriage license can be issued to an applicant who is not a United States citizen.” A 2008 opinion from the office concluded that a “social security number is not a required element for a person to receive a marriage license.”

After the initial lawsuit was filed, 13 counties informed the SPLC they had either abandoned the policy or affirmed they are not denying marriage licenses due to the immigration status of one or both of the prospective spouses. Those 13 counties are Coosa, Crenshaw, Houston, Jefferson, Marengo, Mobile, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Wilcox and Winston.