Paul Hard v. Robert Bentley, et al.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama laws that refused to recognize lawful same-sex marriages – unconstitutional laws that created legal obstacles for a man suing over the wrongful death of his husband.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Paul Hard, whose husband was killed in a car wreck in 2011. It sought to overturn the state’s Marriage Protection Act, a 1998 law that banned the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states, and the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which enshrined this ban in the constitution in 2005.

The suit also demanded that Hard receive his rightful share of the proceeds from a pending wrongful death suit, and that Alabama issue a corrected death certificate for his deceased husband, David Fancher, listing Hard as the surviving spouse.

Hard and Fancher were married in Massachusetts in May 2011, and Fancher died in a Prattville, Alabama, hospital the following August while the two were living in Montgomery. When Hard arrived at the hospital following an early morning crash, a receptionist refused to give him any information about Fancher, telling him he was not a member of Fancher’s “family” and that gay marriages weren’t recognized in Alabama. After a half hour of inquiries, a hospital orderly finally told Hard, “Well, he’s dead.”

Adding to the indignity, a funeral home director cited Alabama law in insisting that the death certificate indicate Fancher was never married. Hard is now suing the trucking companies involved in the wreck; Fancher collided in the dark with a large truck strewn across the northbound lanes of Interstate 65 north of Montgomery.

In Alabama, however, proceeds from a wrongful death case must be distributed pursuant to the laws of interstate succession (even though Fancher died with a will and Hard was the sole beneficiary). And because Alabama refused to recognize lawful same-sex marriages entered in other states,  Hard could not be deemed the surviving spouse and share in the proceeds of the lawsuit.

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

After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June 2015, a federal judge ruled that Hard could collect the proceeds from the wrongful death lawsuit as the surviving spouse.