Federal Judge Declines to Dismiss Georgia Same-Sex Marriage Lawsuit
(APN) ATLANTA — U.S. District Judge William Duffey has denied a motion to dismiss the case brought by several same-sex couples in Georgia, challenging Georgia’s statutory and constitutional provisions prohibiting same-sex marriages. The court’s denial of the motion means that the case, Christopher Innis, et al., v. Deborah Aderhold, et al., can now go forward.
In 1996, the Georgia Legislature passed a law banning same-sex marriages. In 2004, a majority of voters ratified a state constitutional amendment banning the same. Aderhold, one of several defendants sued in their official capacity, is the State Registrar and Director of Vital Records.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the couples filed their complaint in April 2014.
The couples argue that the State is violating their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
The State argued the case should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court rejected both arguments.
As for the subject matter jurisdiction issue, the State argued there was no federal question for the court to decide because the Supreme Court of the U.S. had previously dismissed an appeal by same-sex couples in Minnesota. The couples in Minnesota had been seeking to overturn an unfavorable ruling by the Supreme Court of Minnesota, in a case called Baker.
However, the court found that it was not bound by Baker, because of significant historical changes, and changes in court doctrine, regarding same-sex marriage.
The court cited several cases to show this doctrinal change, including the recent Supreme Court of the U.S. decision in U.S. v. Windsor, striking down the now-former federal Defense of Marriage Act; as well as the Lawrence v. Texas decision, which struck down sodomy laws as unconstitutional.
As for the failure to state a claim issue, the State argued the Plaintiffs had no valid legal claim under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Constitution of the U.S.
However, the court ruled that the State of Georgia failed to meet the low threshold–to prove that it had any rational basis for discriminating against same-sex couples–and that it could not meet the threshold.
“Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint does not address how Georgia’s asserted interests in child welfare and procreation are advanced by the State’s prohibition on same-sex marriages, and the State’s refusal to recognize lawful marriages performed in other States,” the ruling states.
“Defendants argue that Georgia’s prohibition on same-sex marriages, and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other States, is rationally related to the State’s interests in encouraging procreation and child welfare,” the ruling states.
“Defendants contend that the State has a legitimate interest in ‘encouraging the raising of children in homes consisting of a married mother and father;’ ‘ensuring legal frameworks for protection of children of relationships where unintentional reproduction is possible;’ ‘ensuring adequate reproduction;’ ‘fostering a child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents to subordinate their own interests to the needs of their children;’ and exercising prudence before departing from [the traditional] definition of marriage,” the ruling states.
“These conclusory assertions are not supported by specific facts,” the ruling states.
The court then noted that the Plaintiffs have alleged facts which contradict the assertions made by the State.
“The Amended Complaint specifically alleges that prohibiting same-sex marriages harms the State’s interest in child welfare, and that the exclusion does not offer a conceivable benefit to children of opposite-sex couples,” the ruling states.
“It contends that scientific consensus shows that children raised by same-sex couples are as well-adjusted as those raised by opposite-sex couples,” the ruling states.
“It asserts further that excluding same-sex couples from marriage humiliates their children, and denies those children the ability to understand the integrity and closeness of their own families without offering any conceivable benefit to the children of opposite-sex couples,” the ruling states.
Generally, under the rational basis test, federal courts defer to legislatures that pass laws as long as there is a rational basis for the legislature to have passed the law they did to address the state interest they are purporting to protect.
That the court would reject the State’s argument that it has a state interest in discriminating against same-sex couples–other than for the sole purpose of discriminating against a class of people, at this stage–bodes well for equality in Georgia.
“We congratulate our colleagues at Lambda Legal on their great work and success in this case, and look forward to working toward continued success together” Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality, said in a press release.
“While this in no way indicates the judge’s opinion on same-sex marriage, it is encouraging that even one of the more conservative judges in the district is unwilling to accept the State’s tired claim, based on no evidence, that opposite sex couples are better for children.”