Last April, several gay couples filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the same-sex marriage ban that's been on Georgia's books for nearly a decade. The lawsuit included Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Midtown; Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro; Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville; and Jennifer Sisson, whose wife Pamela Drenner passed away earlier this year.
In 2004, Georgians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that made it illegal for the state to acknowledge or perform gay marriages and civil unions. Most other states' bans have been challenged - and in some cases, overturned - following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling that deemed the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. Georgia was one of the last states to have such a lawsuit filed.
The Associated Press' Kathleen Foody explains the state attorney general's decision to ask for the federal lawsuit's dismissal:
Attorney General Sam Olens, representing the state registrar, said in a filing Monday that the suit takes away Georgia residents' right to define marriage.
Olens' brief acknowledges a movement in some states to recognize same-sex marriage and public opinion polls that support those changes.
"But judicially imposing such a result now would merely wrest a potentially unifying popular victory from the hands of supporters and replace it instead with the stale conformity of compulsion," the brief says. "This Court should reject Plaintiffs' invitation to disregard controlling precedent, decline to anticipate a future ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and dismiss Plaintiffs' claims in their entirety."
The Georgia Voice's Patrick Saunders chatted with Lambda Legal, an LGBT-focused legal group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven different people, about Olens' decision:
Lambda Legal senior attorney Tara Borelli weighed in on the Olens brief, saying, “This brief raises the same arguments that have been rejected time and time again in several federal courts unanimously since Windsor was decided.”
Borelli cited Olens’ argument in the brief about Baker v. Nelson, in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a state law limiting marriage to opposite sex couples did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
“This is an argument that isn’t even a question to be answered by the court,” Borellis says. “This is a one-sentence decision issued by the Supreme Court 42 years ago. Obviously a lot has changed since then.”
Georgia Equality yesterday delivered more than 3,000 signed petitions to Olens' office asking him to not defend Georgia's gay marriage ban.
Olens “has the opportunity to do the right thing and avoid wasting taxpayer money defending the indefensible,” the group said in an action alert today, noting that marriage bans in other states are falling left and right these days. “Let Sam Olens know that Georgians of all political stripes support marriage equality and don’t want to see Georgia’s leaders spend our money to be on the wrong side of history yet again.”
Olens’ office did not immediately respond to a comment request. In late February Olens said he had a "duty" to enforce and defend the ban.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, says advocates have not contacted Olens directly but are "relying on his public comments that he intends to defend the constitutional ban." Graham also says they just launched the petition Friday and nearly 800 people signed it over the weekend.
July 21 is the deadline for the defendants - the clerk of Gwinnett County Probate Court, a Fulton County Probate Court judge and state Registrar Deborah Aderhold - to decide how to respond to the pending lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of various Georgians in April by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Olens is currently signed on to represent Aderhold, while the other defendants have other attorneys, according to Lambda’s lead attorney, Tara Borelli. Even if Olens backed out, other attorney might still present a defense, she said.
But the lawsuit, and Georgia Equality’s petition, are based on the fact that around the country, same-sex marriage bans are increasingly proving morally and legally indefensible. Since the Georgia lawsuit was filed, several other state bans have fallen or been challenged. Governors and attorneys general in such states as Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Nevada have given up on presenting defenses, seeing that they are doomed to fail.
And defenses are pricey. According to the Associated Press, Utah’s ongoing defense of its marriage ban has already cost $300,000, and the state has budgeted another $300,000 for its U.S. Supreme Court appeal.
“I think it will be very difficult [for a court] to ignore the unanimous swell of decisions in favor of marriage equality,” Borelli said, since last year’s groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Winsor.
As we noted earlier this morning, Lambda Legal has filed a class action lawsuit that seeks to toss out Georgia's same-sex marriage ban. The legal challenge represents an important first step toward ending marriage discrimination throughout the state.
In 2004, Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibited the state from acknowledging or performing gay marriages or civil unions. But it's been expected that the state's law would be contested since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.
That action came particularly slow in Georgia, which had been one of the last states in the country to file this kind of challenge. But the cause has gained momentum in recent months, most recently with a new advocacy effort from Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a coalition of 12 Southern LGBT organizations seeking to rally support for marriage equality throughout the region.
To announce the landmark legal challenge, the lawsuit's plaintiffs joined Lambda Legal and Georgia Equality at a press conference. The lawsuit includes four different parties: Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Midtown; Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville; Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro; and Jennifer Sisson, whose wife Pamela Drenner passed away earlier this year.
We are proud to partner with @LambdaLegal to announce a Georgia lawsuit to end marriage discrimination! pic.twitter.com/zPsK02tiVQ
- Georgia Equality (@GAEquality) April 22, 2014
We've included the full 48-page lawsuit after the jump:
Maybe it's time to join more than 40 other states where marriage equality advocates have filed lawsuits challenging similar unfair laws?
But a three-day international conference at Emory University, which poses the question "Whose Beloved Community?," will attempt to dissect and reframe King's grand philosophy within a modern African-American LGBT context.
Drawing scholars and advocates from across the country, the "Black Civil Rights and LGBT Rights Conference" runs March 27-29 and will feature such panels as "Christianity at the Crossing of Selma" and Stonewall, and "Failed Alliances? Moving Beyond Sexuality and Race in the LGBT and Civil Rights Movements."
In a feature previewing the conference, WABE's Rose Scott recalls how the anti-gay attack on Brandon White in Atlanta's Pittsburgh neighborhood two years ago "reignited conversations about the black community and a longstanding perception of being homophobic and estranged from the plight of its own black gay people."
In it, Warnock, who inherited King's former pulpit as current senior pastor of Ebenezer, addresses the spiritual depletion of the black church, which he says has largely abandoned its mission of communal uplift and providing a voice for the voiceless in recent decades for an increased focus on personal prosperity.
During a recent interview with Michel Martin of NPR's "Tell Me More," he advocated for a return to the kind of values for which Dr. King stood, including speaking truth to power, even in the age of the first black president, and fighting for equal rights for members of the LGBT community:
MARTIN: Do you feel that that kind of challenge to authority has been quiet these recent years in part because there is an African-American president in the White House and many people of color, including African-American preachers like yourself, feel that it would be, you know, disloyal, unhelpful to criticize this president or this leadership in such a pointed fashion now?
WARNOCK: Oh, Michel, I think that there is a deafening and shameful silence on the part not only the black church, but of the community of faith in general in America. And that's been the case for a very long time. As we are debating issues that have to do with the soul of America - wealth, inequality, minimum wage. As we deal with the fact that 25 percent of the world's prisoners are housed in the United States of America. And so in the book I call the black church because it has been the conscience of America to rediscover its liberationist's roots. And speak truth to power no matter who's in the White House.
MARTIN: But, there are other ways that, though - in which African-American pastors have been very prominent in the recent era, some. I mean, we're obviously talking about, kind of, a big group of people with lots of different points of view. But a number of African-American pastors have become prominent in the fight against LGBT rights. For example, opposing same-sex marriage, you know, on the one hand. And also, another group of pastors who've become prominent around the so-called prosperity gospel - do you have an indictment of them - and who feel very strongly in encouraging people to seek material success? What's wrong with that?
WARNOCK: This is why we need a conversation between our pastors and the best of our theologians, specifically those in the black theology movement. The black church was born fighting for freedom. At our best, we've never fought against anybody's freedom. And so in this conversation about marriage equality, about the concerns raised by our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, part of what the black church needs to be reminded of is the fact that those who supported slavery, those who argued vociferously for slavery, had every bit as much scripture, if not more, on their side of the argument as those who argued against slavery. So we really need an honest conversation about the nature of Christian faith. And I argue that at its best, the Christian faith is about freedom. It's about justice. It's about liberation. It certainly is about the formation of individual spirituality, but that spirituality ought to send one into the world fighting for something other than one's own personal prosperity.
Listen to the interview in its entirety below the jump:
A press conference is scheduled later this afternoon at City Hall to celebrate the occasion. The HRC and Georgia Equality will recognize Mayor Kasim Reed, Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan, and other city officials for the policies that helped Atlanta earn the recognition.
The HRC's report, which we've included after the jump, devotes a full page to Atlanta's "success story." Reed picked up his pen to discuss what he's accomplished on the LGBT front throughout his political career:
LGBT equality has been an important issue for me throughout my career. As a member of Georgia's House of Representatives, I was the chief sponsor of Georgia's first and only Hate Crimes Bill that protected LGBT individuals. As a State Senator, I led the effort to oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I consistently helped defeat state bills that would ban gay adoption. On the national level, I was a vocal advocate for the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and for allowing LGBT individuals to serve openly in the military.
My commitment to LGBT rights continues as Atlanta's Mayor. In 2012, I expressed my support of marriage equality for same-sex couples; marriage is a fundamental right for all loving couples regardless of their sexual orientation. I recently appointed Robin Shahar as my Mayoral Advisor on LGBT issues. She will identify and provide counsel on areas of community concern, and will recommend strategies for advancing LGBT equality citywide. In July, I proudly signed a bill updating the Atlanta Code to ensure that all non-discrimination provisions include gender identity as a protected class. This September, I signed on as a co-chair of the national Mayors for the Freedom to Marry campaign.
Atlanta's history of civil rights leadership is rooted in the belief that our diversity makes our city stronger. As a result, Atlanta is home to one of the largest and most vibrant LGBT communities in the country. As Mayor, I will continue my efforts to achieve equal protection and equal treatment of Atlanta's LGBT residents, workers and visitors.
Left unmentioned: that Reed supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage until late 2012. The move earned him a dreaded "flip flop" ranking from the AJC's Politifact, an honor that he didn't enjoy so much.
You can read the full report after the jump:
Major League Baseball teams today have been spreading the word about GLAAD Spirit Day in hopes of shining light on LGBT youth and bullying issues. But a vocal group of Atlanta Braves fans aren't entirely thrilled with the effort.
Earlier this morning, the Braves organization posted a message on Facebook that encouraged Atlantans to wear purple for the cause. As Deadspin points out, there's been hundreds of negative comments left in response. Some people told the team to keep its posts baseball-related, while a handful had publicly declared that they're no longer fans. We've included a sample of what's being said after the jump:
The Democratic Party of Georgia's new chairman says he's changed his views on gay marriage.
Former House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, who was elected this month as the state party's leader, told the Democratic LGBT Caucus this weekend that his position toward same-sex marriage has evolved following a tumultuous divorce and a gay cousin's marriage. According to a report and video shot by the Georgia Voice, Porter's views have changed since he fought against openly gay state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, over a 2004 amendment to the state Constitution that would have banned gay marriage in Georgia.
You can watch Porter's remarks in the above YouTube video. The AJC's Jim Galloway also transcribed the comments, which you can read below:
All of us have personal experiences. Here, I went through a pretty messy divorce. What I thought was the perfect marriage just fell apart. So the commitment that I thought I had with someone was not nearly as strong as I thought it was.
My first cousin, who lives in DeKalb County, has a life partner and had to go to New York to get married. The commitment they have is stronger than the one I thought I had. It is that strong and sincere. And we need to relay that.
[Former state lawmaker] Jim Martin [of Atlanta] and I used to share offices together. Jim called me one day and said, 'DuBose, you know our districts aren't that different from each other.' I said, 'What do you mean?' [He said,] 'You have just as many gay constituents in your area as I do. They're just not out.'
How do you have it so that everyone is comfortable where they live? The state Democratic party has that opportunity to have that conversation.
It's better to have somebody that's from there - you know, you need a bald-headed, fat redneck. I think I can help take that message better, in a way than just having someone from Atlanta talk about it. It's because I believe in it and I'm not afraid to talk about it."
Shahar, who is openly gay, has worked for the city's law department since 1993 and is a Woodruff Fellow at Emory University's law school. Her new position will include advising the mayor on local, state, and national issues. She'll also serve as a liaison between Reed and community organizations to achieve "equal protection and treatment for Atlanta's LGBT residents, workers, and visitors."
"I am honored and privileged to work with a Mayor who cares deeply about LGBT equality, and who values diversity as integral to Atlanta's strength and vibrancy," Shahar said in a statement.
Georgia Voice points out that Shahar successfully fought against former Georgia Insurance Commissioner (and one-time gubernatorial candidate) John Oxendine in 1999 in making benefits available to city employees' domestic partners. Oxendine had previously opposed the plan because it opened the door to "illegal sexual relationships."
In addition, she also fought former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers in court in a discrimination case. The Georgia Voice writes:
Shahar is likely best known for suing Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers after he rescinded his job offer to her in 1991 when he learned she was planning a same-sex commitment ceremony[.]
Bowers had successfully defended the state's sodomy law in 1986 and said Shahar would not be able to enforce the law if she worked in his office. Shahar sued Bowers but the district court and federal courts ruled in favor of Bowers. In 1998, the Supreme Court declined to hear her case.
Reed called Shahar's new position a "vital role" in his administration. She'll now become his only openly-gay senior staff member, a role once filled by spokesman Reese McCranie, who now handles communications for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
"In addition to her keen legal mind, she is well-respected in the community and will be an effective ambassador," Reed said in a statement. "My administration and I are dedicated to eliminating barriers to equality, fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and engaging the LGBT community across the city."
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