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SPLC client receives monetary award after US Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality

Because the state of Alabama refused to recognize Paul Hard’s marriage, he was previously unable to receive monetary proceeds from a wrongful death suit after his husband was killed.

Alabama resident Paul Hard, who waited four years for justice following the death of his husband, has been awarded funds from a wrongful death settlement after a federal judge determined he is entitled to the surviving spouse’s share under Alabama law.

The closure of his case comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision on June 26 in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state bans on same-sex marriage.  

State officials finally listed Hard as David Fancher’s surviving spouse on a revised death certificate in February 2015 after a federal judge struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages. But the resolution was held up while the state’s marriage laws remained in limbo pending the high court ruling.  

U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins on July 29 ordered proceeds from the settlement to be disbursed to Hard as the surviving spouse. Under Alabama law, he is entitled to the first $100,000 plus half of the rest of the settlement, which is disclosed in the filing.

“Four years ago, this journey began in grief and pain,” Hard said. “I am grateful that the courts have ruled that it will end in justice and equality for couples like David and me. I pray that equality for LGBT Americans continues and need not be won at the cost of sorrow and turmoil. I hope that this decision marks a new day for Alabamians and others in the public’s recognition of my marriage and a love that is equal to any other.”

Hard, an assistant professor at a Montgomery-area university, and Fancher were married in May 2011 in Massachusetts. Fancher was killed three months later when his car collided with a large truck on Alabama’s Interstate 65.

Hard sued the trucking companies in a separate case not filed by the SPLC, and that suit was settled in July 2014.

On the morning of the accident, when Hard arrived at the hospital in Prattville, Alabama, a receptionist refused to give him any information about his husband. He was told he was not a member of Fancher’s “family” and that gay marriages weren’t recognized in Alabama.

Finally, a hospital orderly told Hard, “Well, he’s dead.” After receiving the traumatic news, a funeral home director cited Alabama law in insisting that the death certificate indicate Fancher was never married – even though Fancher and Hard were legally married in Massachusetts.  

Likewise, the state would not recognize Hard as the surviving spouse. Fancher’s mother, Pat Fancher, sought to be the sole beneficiary of the wrongful death suit proceeds, even though Hard was due a portion as the surviving spouse.

The SPLC filed suit on Hard’s behalf in February 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The suit sought to overturn the state’s Marriage Protection Act, a 1998 law banning the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states, and the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which enshrined the ban in the state constitution in 2006.

Pat Fancher was represented by the Foundation for Moral Law, founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and currently led by his wife, Kayla (see related story about the SPLC’s ethics complaint against Moore).

In Alabama, proceeds from a wrongful death case must be distributed under the laws of intestate succession, regardless of a will, which listed Hard as the sole beneficiary. 

The Foundation for Moral Law argued that the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling should not be applied retroactively to the case. The judge disagreed.

“Alabama laws that had refused recognition of Paul and David’s marriage violated the U.S. Constitution, which does not permit official anti-LGBT discrimination,” said SPLC staff attorney Sam Wolfe. 

“Consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in June, David Fancher’s death certificate is corrected from having stated ‘never married,’ and Paul has finally received his rightful share of wrongful death proceeds relating to David’s tragic death. We’re happy that Paul’s case is now successfully concluded and that Alabama is one step closer to more fully extending its Southern hospitality to all citizens.”