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Georgia Court Reverses Decision Concerning Same-Sex Marriage

By Brenda Goodman


In a unanimous reversal of a lower court decision, six justices of the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the state’s 2004 two-part ban against same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Seventy-six percent of Georgians who voted in a referendum in November 2004 supported the ban, but a Superior Court judge ruled in May that it violated the Georgia Constitution because the ballot question addressed more than one issue, including civil unions.

The Supreme Court ruling was expedited at the request of Gov. Sonny Purdue, a Republican, who had threatened to call a special legislative session if the court did not act on an appeal by August, a threat many critics saw as a move to rally conservative voters ahead of his November bid for re-election.

“I’m delighted that they ruled unanimously in favor of the people of Georgia, that they clearly understood what they were voting for,” Purdue said at a news conference.

Gay and civil rights groups had hoped the court would toss out the sweeping amendment because they said its dual purposes — to limit the definition of marriage as the union of only a man and a woman and to refuse legal benefits and protections to same-sex couples in civil unions — were unfairly linked in the referendum and forced voters who might have only agreed with one part to have to approve both.

Additionally, the section of the amendment dealing with those legal benefits and protections was not printed on the November 2004 ballot or posted at polling places. Voters could only see the section that limits the definition of marriage to a union to a man and a woman. The full text of the amendment was printed in newspapers across the state before the election.

The opinion came on the same day the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, decided that state has no legal obligation to recognize same-sex marriages.

“I was very disappointed,” said Karla Drenner, a Georgia state representative who led the fight against the amendment. “It’s a very sad thing when the Empire State of the South and the Empire State of the North decide to discriminate on the same day.”

“I think the public was deceived here in Georgia,” Drenner, a Democrat, said.

The Georgia Supreme Court, however, felt voters were not duped by the two-part question.