Karine Jean-Pierre
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Georgia Dems Sound Alarm on Gov. Kemp's Anti-Marriage Equality Stance

Gov. Brian Kemp, State Rep. Sam Park, and State Sen. Kim Jackson.

From left: Gov. Brian Kemp, Rep. Sam Park, and Sen. Kim Jackson

As the fall’s election nears and campaigns traditionally ramp up after Labor Day, Georgia Democrats are sounding the alarm that LGBTQ+ rights in the state are at risk. The warning comes as Republican candidates for office in Georgia continue to indicate their opposition to the right to marriage equality, which experts warn could be at stake in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Democratic Georgia LGBTQ+ state legislators held a press conference Monday at the state capitol to protest Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Republicans’ threat to marriage equality. State Sen. Kim Jackson and State Rep. Sam Park talked about Kemp’s desire to dismantle marriage equality and how Kemp and Republicans have rolled back and attacked Georgians’ rights.

Kemp recently reiterated his position that marriage was solely between a man and a woman, Axios reports. However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with that position in 2015 when it held in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

In Georgia, legislators passed and voters ratified an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2004, establishing that only marriages between a man and a woman would be legal. Additionally, the amendment dictated that Georgia would recognize no marriages from out of state between same-sex couples.

Democrats believe that not only is it necessary for Georgia to repeal discriminatory laws from its books but also to amend its constitution to remove anti-LGBTQ+ language that would make marriage equality a thing of the past if the Supreme Court were to overturn Obergefell.

But Republicans, including Kemp, claim it’s unnecessary to address these concerns because they are matters of “settled law.”

“Which is absolutely ridiculous,” Park tells The Advocate. “If the governor believes that this is settled law, then he should show this with actions and allow for a change in the language.”

Park says that the phrase “settled law” is essentially meaningless given the recent hard-right turn in ideology the Supreme Court has taken.

“My major issue is [Kemp’s] refusal to be willing to change his mind on an issue that has been settled in the highest court of the land,” Jackson tells The Advocate. “But furthermore, and maybe even more importantly in this context, the majority of his party are not interested in taking away rights of people to have marriages that are the same sex.”

Jackson’s assertion is supported by data that shows that the topic of marriage equality is pretty much a settled one, and Americans are on board.

Gallup found in June that 71 percent of Americans support marriage equality, an all-time high. This includes a majority of Republicans, 55 percent, who favor recognizing marriage as a legal right for all couples.

She says she’s struck and “offended” by his unwillingness to change his mind.

“If we were to lose federal protection to marry, we would immediately lose the right to be married and to be recognized under the law because we have that constitutional amendment on the books,” she explains.

As the only out member of the LGBTQ+ community in the Georgia Senate, Jackson says she’s flabbergasted that this is even a topic now.

“If you had asked me six months ago if we would be having this conversation, I would have said absolutely not,” she says. “But overwhelmingly, I’ve been well received in the General Assembly. There are a number of queer folks in the House, and the sentiment across Georgia is overwhelmingly OK.”

She’s quick to add that “it’s not great, and homophobia is still real,” but she says that in her experience, Georgians had moved beyond matters of sexual orientation until recently, when right-wing operatives made the existence of LGBTQ+ life a wedge issue.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats warn that “settled law” is essentially meaningless given the Supreme Court’s hard shift to the right.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Supreme Court should reconsider “all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” The Griswold and Lawrence decisions deal with, respectively, the right to contraception and the right to same-sex intimacy.

Georgia Equality Director Jeff Graham tells The Advocate that marriage is such a fundamental element dear to the LGBTQ+ community and others that it should not be considered controversial to solidify those protections.

“For [Kemp] to not even recognize the concerns we have when Justice Thomas explicitly called for a reevaluation of this by the Supreme Court, and for him to dismiss it as settled law as though the question should not even be asked is not only jarring, but it’s insulting and offensive,” Graham says.

Graham joined Park and Jackson in calling for Georgians and Americans to do one thing in their power to protect LGBTQ+ rights: vote.

Park says that while much focus is on the gubernatorial race between Kemp and Stacey Abrams and other statewide offices, voters need to pay attention to the Georgia legislature.

“We have got to ensure that we have people elected in the legislature who will focus on and champion LGBTQ+ issues for Georgians because it’s truly needed,” Park says.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Abrams blasted Kemp for his position.

“Today, Brian Kemp revealed he firmly opposes marriage equality even as Republicans across the country have accepted this fundamental right,” she wrote on Twitter. “As governor, I will champion protecting these basic rights and codify marriage equality into our state’s laws.”

In 2016, Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill that would have allowed discrimination against LGBTQ+ people based on religious beliefs, but then-Gov. Nathan Deal, a fellow Republican, vetoed it.

While campaigning for governor in 2018, Kemp said he would sign a similar “religious liberty” bill that would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

While in the state Senate, Kemp voted for the constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. When asked about his vote, he said, “I think it sends a message that people believe in the institution of marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Obergefell has not yet been challenged, but the Supreme Court is set to hear a case involving a web designer who refused service to a same-sex couple and could overturn precedent protecting LGBTQ+ people from business discrimination next term.

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