Couples Sue Georgia over Same-Sex Marriage Ban


(APN) ATLANTA — On April 22, 2014, Lambda Legal Defense, a national legal organization, filed a federal class action lawsuit in Atlanta on behalf of seven Georgia residents and others who are injured by Georgia’s same-sex marriage bans.



Georgia’s legislature banned same-sex marriage in 1996.  Then, just to make sure it would be even more difficult to overturn the ban, in 2004, Georgia passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage with 76 percent of the vote.



The lawsuit argues that Georgia’s bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and discriminate based on sexual orientation.  The State’s marriage bans targets individuals who are homosexual in Georgia as a class for exclusion from marriage.



“The marriage bans brand lesbians and gay men and their children as second-class citizens through government-imposed stigma and promote private bias and discrimination by instructing that same-sex relationships are less worthy than others.  The marriage bans reflect moral disapproval and antipathy toward lesbians and gay men,” the lawsuit states.



The Plaintiffs are Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman; RayShawn Chandler and Avery Chandler; Michael Bishop and Johnny Shane Thomas; and Jennifer Sisson, on behalf of all others similarly situated.



The Defendants are Deborah Aderhold, State Registrar and Director of Vital Records; Brook Davidson, Clerk of Gwinnett County Probate Court; and Judge Pinkie Toomer, Judge of Fulton County Probate Court.



RayShawn and Avery Chandler were married in Connecticut but want their marriage recognized in their home state of Georgia, especially because they are planning to have children through  artificial insemination.  Both women are police officers in Atlanta and Chandler is also a U.S. Army reservist.  If one should be killed in the line of duty, their hoped-for children would not qualify for State survivor’s benefits.  The State of Georgia would not recognize their marriage because they are the same sex.



Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman have been a committed couple for thirteen years and are raising a nine year-old son.  They want to get married in Georgia and are legally qualified to marry under Georgia law, except for the fact they are the same sex.  The Gwinnett County Probate Court refused their application for a marriage license because they are the same sex.



Michael Bishop and Johnny Shane Thomas have been a committed couple for seven years.  They have a five year-old son and a three year-old daughter.  They want to get married in Georgia to obtain the dignity and legitimacy of marriage for their children. The Fulton County Probate Court denied their marriage license because they are the same sex.



Jennifer Sisson’s lifelong partner Pamela Drenner died of ovarian cancer this year.  When Drenner became sick, Jennifer became her full-time caretaker.  The State of Georgia refused to recognize their New York marriage on Drenner’s death certificate.  Sisson only wants to have a death certificate that reflects her marriage to Drenner, rather than one that erases their legal bond together as spouses.  The State of Georgia would not recognize their marriage because they are the same sex.



“Sexual orientation is a core, defining trait that is so fundamental to one’s identity and conscience that a person may not legitimately be required to abandon it (even if that were possible) as a condition of equal treatment,” the lawsuit states.



Denying same-sex couples rights that opposite-sex couples take for granted is harmful and unfair.



Some of the rights same-sex couples are denied in Georgia include: health insurance coverage from spouse’s employment; homestead tax exemption for disabled veterans or their surviving spouse; ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse, ability to recover worker’s compensation benefits for a spouse killed on the job; right to inheritance under the laws of intestacy; and ability to file married/joint tax returns for federal and Georgia taxes.



Rights and responsibilities under more than one thousand federal statutes and regulations involving marriage, including laws pertaining to Social Security, housing, taxes, criminal sanctions, copyright, and veterans’ benefits are denied to same-sex couples.  



Seventeen states have legal same-sex marriage and thirty-three states still ban same-sex marriage.  It is legal for same-sex couples to marry in California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, and Washington; and the District of Columbia.



Same-sex marriage bans have been ruled unconstitutional in Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Virginia, but all are under appeals and waiting higher court decisions.



The Supreme Court of the U.S. last year, in Windsor v. United States, struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that purported to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.



By striking down Section 3 of DOMA, the Supreme Court affirmed that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal.  



Lower court judges are citing the Supreme Court decision as rationale to overturn state same-sex marriage bans.



All polls show the majority of U.S. residents support same-sex marriage.  A recent poll by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found that 48 percent of Georgians favor same-sex marriage and 43 percent oppose it.




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