The issue of same-sex marriage in Alabama is still very much on hold at this point, but it now appears same-sex divorce may be approved.
A Madison County Circuit judge granted the divorce sought by two women who were married three years ago in Iowa. Last year, the pair had made the very same request before the very same court and the very same judge – and were turned away. At the time, the judge ruled that because the state of Alabama doesn't recognize same-sex marital unions, she had no authority to approve a divorce.
The couple, both Alabama natives, were faced with the option of having to move to Iowa for a full year to establish residency so that they could secure a divorce there under state requirements. Instead, they chose to defer the decision in an effort to see how the federal courts would answer. There are numerous same-sex marriage challenges pending in federal courts in Alabama.
Then in January, a federal judge based in Mobile issued a ruling that the Alabama ban on homosexual marriage was in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the equal protection clause was being violated with enforcement of the ban.
A month later, that same federal judge in Mobile issued an order finding the state's marriage ban could be lifted, and probate judges were ordered to start doling out marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
On that same day, the couple again asked the county judge for a divorce.
Now, it's been granted, with the judge offering a brief ruling that cited incompatibility between the couple. At no point did the judge mention the federal court's decision. However, legal analysts have indicated the trial court was correct in finding it was bound by the federal ruling.
Still, the county judge did not cite any specific reasoning on her reversal. Instead, she focused on the more technical aspects – namely, the divorce settlement both parties had signed before. Also, the judge allowed the wife who changed her last name when the two were married could once again go back to using her maiden name.
Attorneys for the couple each said they wanted to complete the process here where they both live, work and have close-knit ties, even though they had to travel to another state to legalize their union.
But the issues of same-sex marriage and divorce are far from settled. Although hundreds of lesbian and gay couples married across the state after the federal judge struck down the marriage ban, the Alabama Supreme Court then ordered a halt to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses. In that ruling, the court found the state constitution limited marriage to one woman and one man.
And after that, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed an earlier finding by the trial court that a woman from Georgia who was no longer with her same-sex partner could request visitation rights with the pair's child in Alabama, where she now resided.
The appellate court decision stripped her of that right, at least for now.
Because there are a number of complex legal issues with which the state is still wrangling in these cases, same-sex couples seeking advice on separation, marriage, adoption, visitation, custody and financial support should contact an experienced Birmingham family law attorney.
Madison County judge grants divorce to same-sex couple, March 13, 2015, By Brian Lawson, AL.com