A pair of gay, married alumni of the University of Alabama have discontinued plans to leave their estimated $15 million estate to their alma mater because of the state's — and by extension, the state school's — refusal to embrace marriage equality.
Elliott Mitchell, now 65, and Clark West, now 60, met at the University of Alabama in 1972 and have been together ever since, reports AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers. The couple married in Hawaii in 2013, and they currently share a home in Sarasota, Fla.
Ten years ago the couple donated $1 million to their alma mater's arts and sciences, business, and athletic departments. They had planned to leave their estate — estimated at $15 million accrued over a lifetime of professional success the couple shared as a real estate developer and mental health counselor — to the university.
After the university rejected the couple's offer to fund a new community outreach center that would include programs for LGBT students, Mitchell and West wrote a letter to the school explaining their decision to remove their alma mater as the beneficiary of the couple's estate, according to AL.com.
"We understand the conflict of well-intended people struggling to find balance with this issue," the men wrote. "But, we also realize there is no support in the legislature or initiatives at the University to create a dialogue. Instead, there is a very strong and continued effort by the state and the majority of its citizens to exclude this group in every way possible."
The prominent alumni even encouraged the University to share the couple's story as a way to change hearts and minds in the traditionally conservative state.
"You are welcome to share our situation with anyone you believe will be helpful in encouraging Alabama to provide equality to all its citizens," West and Mitchell wrote. "You have done it before and you can do it again. We do not want anything from you, just a recognition that all decisions have consequences."
At the time, the couple received no response from the university.
When approached by AL.com, University of Alabama president Judy Bonner expressed gratitude for Mitchell and West's "unprecedented generosity and support for their alma mater."
Noting that she "enjoyed several opportunities to talk with" Mitchell and West, Bonner's statement concluded that "Elliott and Clark will continue to be valued members of the UA family, and we look forward to many years of working with them to make a difference in the lives of our students."
But Mitchell and West told AL.com that kind words aren't enough, especially when the state's officials — who have a hand in distributing funding to the state school — have gone above and beyond to ensure that same-sex marriage is not respected in Alabama. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court instructed all probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in direct defiance of a federal court order that struck down the state's ban on marriage equality.
"We just have to assume that any legal arrangement or any financial arrangement would not be honored in Alabama," Mitchell told AL.com.
That assumption is affirmed by the tragic story of Paul Hard, a gay man from Montgomery who was not allowed to see his husband in a hospital before his spouse died of injuries sustained in a 2011 car accident. Hard filed a federal lawsuit in February 2014 challenging the portion of Alabama law that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.
Mitchell and West said a fear of a similar fate keeps them from returning to the state where they fell in love, even for vacations. If a tragedy similar to Hard's befell the couple, "after 42 years together, we would not be allowed to visit each other on our deathbed," Mitchell told AL.com.