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Gay-Marriage Ban Gets Hearing in Georgia Court

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Two years ago, voters in Georgia thought they were finished with gay marriage when they overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the State Constitution that bans same sex marriage. But today the issue is before the State Supreme Court because of a technicality in the wording of that ballot measure. Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Broadcasting, reports.

SUSANNA CAPELOUTO reporting:

In 2004, Georgia voters were asked this question, shall the Constitution be amended so as to provide that this state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman. Seventy-six percent said yes. But the law that they approved also banned civil unions, a fact that was not on the ballot.

A group of voters sued because Georgia is one of 41 states with what's called the single subject rule, meaning only one idea can be presented to voters at a time. Attorney Johnny Stevenson argued the case for the plaintiff.

Mr. JOHNNY STEPHENSON (Attorney): What this amendment did was in subsection A, define marriage as the union between a man and woman. But then in subsection B, it did a series of other things, and that is where the unconstitutionality is manifest.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Attorneys for the state, argued that marriage and civil unions were related enough to have a single question on the ballot. That view is shared by Sadie Fields, who lobbied hard for the amendment as the head of the Christian Coalition of Georgia.

Ms. SADIE FIELDS (Director, Christian Coalition of Georgia): It is marriage just with another name. It is simply the homosexual community wanting to have the sanction of government in order to marry, you know - a man marry a man, and a woman marry a woman. It's just one more step in their agenda toward receiving all of the benefits of marriage.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: But Superior Court Judge Constance Russell threw out the amendment in May, on technical grounds, saying it indeed violates the single subject rule. Governor Sonny Perdue, a Republican, does not agree.

Governor SONNY PERDUE (Republican, Georgia): I think she's incorrect.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Perdue who is up for re-election this November wasted no time to appeal Russell's decision to the State Supreme Court. He calls her an activist judge and says Georgians knew what they were doing when they approved the amendment.

Gov. PERDUE: I think hopefully, the Supreme Court will view it that way. If she is adjudicated to be held up, then we will give the people of Georgia an opportunity to express their opinion again.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: That opportunity could come in November. If Russell's ruling isn't overturned, Perdue says he will call a special session of legislature to get another gay marriage ban on the ballot this fall. Chuck Bowen with the gay rights lobbying group, Georgia Equality, says it's a waste of taxpayer money, because a ten-year-old state law already prohibits gay marriages in Georgia.

Mr. CHUCK BOWEN (Georgia Equality): This is something that is already illegal. It could wait until January, but instead the Governor wants to use this to turn our votes on Election Day for the Republicans on the ticket. That's what this is all about.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Bowen and his group are fighting an uphill battle. With 76 percent of Georgians approving the amendment two years ago, Perdue's Democratic rivals aren't taking any chances. They are also supporting a special session if the State Supreme does not approve the amendment.

Perdue says, if a favorable ruling does not come by August 7th, a special session would start two days later.

For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.

STAMBERG: You can track the nation's anti-gay marriage initiatives by going to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susanna Capelouto
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