Cases & Advocacy

Strawser v. Strange

Status: Closed

Outcome: Victory

Location: Alabama

James Strawser and John Humphrey applied for a marriage license in Mobile County, Alabama, but were denied. Strawser faced significant health issues. Despite having a medical power of attorney, Humphrey was told by a hospital where Strawser was receiving medical treatment that they would not honor the document because Humphrey was not a family member or spouse.

The couple filed a federal challenge to Alabama’s marriage ban, a companion case to a case filed by Mobile couple Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, who married in California but whose marriage Alabama refuses to recognize. Searcy and McKeand are represented by Alabama attorneys Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy.

On January 23 and 26, 2015, Judge Callie V. S. Granade of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Alabama issued decisions in the cases prohibiting Alabama from enforcing its marriage ban and its non-recognition laws. The court temporarily stayed its order until February 9.

On January 27, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to stay the district court’s order until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in marriage equality cases from Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky.

On February 3, the Eleventh Circuit denied the Attorney General’s request to prevent the district court’s order from taking effect as scheduled on February 9.

On February 3, the Attorney General asked the Supreme Court to stay the district court orders until the Supreme Court ruled in cases involving marriage equality bans in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan. The following day, Strawser and Humphrey asked the Supreme Court to allow the district court’s decisions striking down the marriage ban to go into effect as scheduled on February 9. On the morning of February 9, the Supreme Court denied the state’s request.

That day, couples began marrying in Alabama. Some county probate judges, including in Mobile County, where Strawser and Humphrey applied for a marriage license, refused to issue marriage licenses.

After a hearing on February 12, 2015, Judge Granade instructed Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As a result of Judge Granade’s order, county probate judges in most Alabama counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

On March 3 and March 10, 2015, the Supreme Court of Alabama issued a series of orders that directed county probate judges to cease issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As a result of those orders from the state supreme court, all counties that previously had issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples stopped doing so.

On March 6, 2015, NCLR and co-counsel filed a motion on behalf of the plaintiffs in the federal Strawser case, asking Judge Granade for (1) leave to file a second amended complaint naming additional plaintiffs and an additional defendant, (2) certification of the federal case as a class action encompassing all same-sex couples and all county probate judges in the State of Alabama, and (3) an order and injunction directing all Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to any otherwise qualified same-sex couple. On May 21, 2015, the district court granted the motions but stayed the injunction until the issuance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the marriage cases.

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in NCLR’s Tennessee marriage case and cases from three other states affirming the freedom to marry in every state and U.S. territory.

The couples were represented by NCLR, Birmingham attorney Heather Fann, the ACLU of Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.