Georgia lawmakers join marriage-ban frenzy

By admin

Originally published on Advocate.com January 23 2004 1:00 AM ET

A day after President Bush said the U.S. "must defend the sanctity of marriage," Republican leaders in the Georgia senate introduced a resolution that would ban gay marriages in Georgia. The resolution calls for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage only as a union between a man and a woman. Current state law already does so. But saying they fear judges could redefine marriage without the consent of politicians, senate Republicans said they want the state's constitution to carry the same language. "For thousands of years, the institution of marriage has been between a man and a woman," said senate Republican leader Bill Stephens of Canton, one of the resolution's sponsors. "It begins to tear at the foundations of our institutions if it's anything other than that."

If approved by the general assembly, the proposed amendment would appear on ballots during November's general election. Gay rights groups immediately decried the resolution, calling it an antigay attempt to pander to voters in an election year. "The purpose of amendments is to create protections for the citizens of Georgia, not to write discrimination into the constitution," said Allen Thornell, executive director of Georgia Equality, the state's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group. "Individual rights are not based upon just what the majority at one point in time feels but are based on principles higher than that."

But some of the bill's sponsors said it was their moral and religious beliefs that led them to push the plan. "Not only is it biblical, but it's the only way we can protect this country," said Sen. Don Cheeks (R-Augusta), who said he recently had his cable television disconnected because of "immoral" programming. "I believe this [resolution] is going back to the founding fathers' beliefs." Stephens originally was the bill's primary sponsor. But it was quickly changed to allow Sen. Mike Crotts (R-Atlanta)--a candidate for U.S. Congress--to take the top spot since he had already authored a similar bill.

Democrats in the legislature called the resolution a political ploy, saying no court cases have ever challenged Georgia's marriage law and no politicians have suggested changing it. "It's already against the law in Georgia for a man to marry a man, and I don't know of any attempts to change that law," said Rep. Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah), chairman of the house judiciary committee. "I think it's being done for political purposes, not because there's a substantive problem." Bordeaux, an attorney, said the language of the proposed amendment may violate the U.S. Constitution, which requires states to respect the laws of other states. Under the resolution, Georgia would not recognize any action by another state that creates a same-sex marriage. "But the Republicans don't care whether it's permissible under the federal Constitution," Bordeaux said. "They just want the Democrats to take the bait and come out in a way that makes it look like we're against the amendment on a substantive basis instead of a legal basis."

But Stephens, who has also backed legislation this year to build a statue of popular U.S. senator Zell Miller and change the constitution to protect hunting and fishing, denied that the proposed amendment is an effort to pander to voters or disturb Democrats. "Debates like the one that will ensue on this subject need to take place, and Georgians have a right to voice their opinion," Stephens said. The resolution will be officially introduced into the senate on Monday and may be considered in a senate committee by next week.