Advocates for same-sex marriage challenge proposed Georgia ban

Opponents of a proposed amendment to the Georgia constitution banning gay marriage have filed a lawsuit to stop a November vote on the measure. The suit, filed Thursday, claims the amendment violates the state constitution because the ballot item asks a simple question about same-sex marriage while the actual amendment deals with additional issues, like civil unions and the jurisdiction of state courts. "This lawsuit is about protecting the voters of Georgia and protecting the sanctity of the ballot," said Beth Littrell, attorney for the Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the Atlanta law firm of Alston and Bird filed the suit.

Sadie Fields, who chairs the state Christian Coalition, called the lawsuit "unfortunate" and "ill-advised." Fields lobbied the legislature earlier this year in favor of the bill that authorized the public vote on the amendment. "The elected representatives of the people of Georgia have seen it fit to give the people a voice and a vote at the ballot box," Fields said. "To litigate it through the courts is circumventing the form of government that our founders gave us."

The proposed language that would appear on the November 2 ballot reads: "Shall the constitution be amended so as to provide that this state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman?" The actual amendment also prohibits civil unions between members of the same sex, says that Georgia will not recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and gives Georgia courts no authority to issue divorces or other legal rulings in such unions. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Georgia, but amendment advocates say adding the ban to the constitution will make it harder for a court to overturn that law any time in the future.

Opponents argue that the amendment goes far beyond just banning gay marriage and say the vague language could threaten domestic partnerships, hospital visitation rights, medical and financial powers of attorney, and parental rights. "As Georgians realize that a beloved family member or respected coworker is gay, they want to see some sort of legal protection for that person," said state representative Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), the legislature's only openly gay member. "Maybe not marriage, but some sort of legal arrangements to protect their partners, their children, their families." A hearing has been scheduled for September 24 in Fulton County superior court.

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