Judges rule ban does not violate the state’s single-subject rule by
outlawing both marriages and civil unions for same-sex couples
The Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage Thursday, just hours after New York’s highest court upheld that state’s gay-marriage ban.
The Georgia Supreme Court, reversing a lower court’s ruling, decided unanimously that the ban did not violate the state’s single-subject rule for ballot measures by outlawing both marriages and civil unions for same-sex couples.
“It is apparent that the prohibition against recognizing same-sex unions as entitled to the benefits of marriage is not “‘dissimilar and discordant’ to the objective of reserving the status of marriage and its attendant benefits exclusively to unions of man and woman,” Justice Robert Benham wrote.
Judge Constance Russell of Fulton County Superior Court had ruled that the ballot question had asked voters a single question about separate issues: the definition of marriage, and whether same-sex couples should be entitled to civil unions.
Russell, a former Fulton County prosecutor and Atlanta school board lawyer who was appointed to the court in 1996 by then-Gov. Zell Miller, acknowledged in her opinion that most Georgia voters approved of the amendment. But she said “the test of a law is not its popularity.”
Seventy-six percent of Georgia voters approved the ban when it was on the ballot in 2004.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs had argued that the ballot language was misleading. The ballot measure asked voters to decide on allowing both same-sex marriage and civil unions. The plaintiffs contended that gay marriage and civil unions were separate issues about which many people have different opinions.
State officials argued that Georgians knew what they were voting on when they overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.
The ruling halts a push for a special session of the General Assembly. Gov. Sonny Perdue had promised to call a special session if the state Supreme Court did not reverse Russell’s decision by Aug. 7.
The governor said he would have asked state lawmakers to craft a new amendment banning gay marriage with language that could withstand the court’s scrutiny.
The ACLU, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Alston and Bird, an Atlanta legal firm, had argued for months that the ballot measure could be interpreted as prohibiting civil unions in addition to same-sex marriages.
Georgia law does not recognize civil unions.
The plaintiffs first filed a lawsuit before the 2004 election, seeking to keep the measure off the ballot. A court rejected their argument that the language was confusing and refused to stop the question from appearing on the ballot.
The attorneys then challenged the amendment after it was approved by voters, saying it violated the single-subject rule of the state constitution.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 7, 2006.