Lawsuit challenging Ga. gay marriage ban filed

April 22, 2014 - 3:35 PM
Gay Marriage Georgia

Shelton Stroman, left, and partner Christopher Inniss, right, watch television at home with their son Jonathan, 9, Thursday, April 17, 2014, in Snellville, Ga. A gay rights group on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, filed a federal lawsuit in Atlanta challenging the state of Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Georgia voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004. The ban was challenged in courts by gay rights groups who challenged the wording of the ballot question, but the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled the vote was valid in 2006. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA (AP) — A gay rights group filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday challenging Georgia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven people and seeks class action status. They are suing the state registrar, a clerk of the Gwinnett County Probate Court and a Fulton County Probate Court judge in their official capacities.

"The history of the United States has been defined by the ability of each succeeding generation to recognize that social, economic, political, religious, and historical norms do not define our unalienable rights," the lawsuit says. "(I)n time, the American ideal of equality and liberty demanded that our government move past cultural and majority oppressions, however long-standing, in order to secure and fulfill the individual rights of all citizens."

Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004. Gay rights groups filed lawsuits in state court challenging the wording of the ballot question, but the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled the vote was valid in 2006.

The current lawsuit filed in federal court challenges the ban itself, rather than the ballot wording. Bans in several states have been overturned since a key Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage last year.

The state constitution prohibits same-sex marriage and says that Georgia will recognize only the union of a man and a woman as marriage and that same-sex marriages performed in others states are not legally recognized.

The office of Attorney General Sam Olens will defend State Registrar and Director of Vital Records Deborah Aderhold.

"The Attorney General will fulfill his constitutional obligation to defend Georgia law," said spokeswoman Lauren Kane.

Fulton County Probate Court Judge Pinkie Toomer's judicial assistant said the judge has no comment.

Gwinnett County Probate Court Clerk Brook Davidson did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Shelton Stroman, 42, and Chris Inniss, 39, a suburban Atlanta couple, are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Tuesday. They've been together for about 13 years, own a pet boarding and daycare business together and adopted their 9-year-old son, Jonathan, as an infant.

"We just want to make sure that other families like ours are treated just like everyone else's family," Stroman said in a phone interview. "It's really hurtful and offensive that the state of Georgia is refusing to treat our families fairly."

Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and Stroman and Inniss have considered going to one of those spots to get married. But they said they're frustrated that their union would have no legal standing in Georgia, and they still wouldn't have the state legal benefits of marriage.

The Supreme Court last year found that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, improperly deprived gay couples of due process. That ruling came as polls showed that a majority of Americans now support gay marriage. Lower-court judges have repeatedly cited the Supreme Court decision when striking down same-sex marriage bans. They have ruled against bans in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Texas, and ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.