May 19, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 20
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Georgia state judge strikes down antiGay amendment as unconstitutional, cites serious procedural flaws
Georgia state judge strikes down antiGay amendment as unconstitutional, cites serious procedural flaws
'This Court is well aware that Amendment One enjoyed great public support. However, the test of law is not its popularity.'

(ATLANTA, GA, May 16, 2006) - A state judge struck down an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that was passed in November, 2004 to deny recognition to same-sex couples. Today's ruling said the amendment violated the state constitution's procedural requirements, which exist to prevent voter confusion and protect the constitutional process.

The state trial court ruling today is in response to a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Georgia and Alston & Bird on behalf a group of voters, legislators and faith leaders. The state is expected to appeal the ruling, which will go directly to the Georgia Supreme Court (which would be the last appeal for the case, since it is based on the Georgia Constitution).

Judge Constance C. Russell's order states: "This Court is well aware that Amendment One enjoyed great public support. However, the test of law is not its popularity. Procedural safeguards such as the single subject rule rarely enjoy popular support. But, ultimately it is those safeguards that preserve our liberties, because they ensure that the actions of government are constrained by the rule of law."

On November 2, 2004, Georgia voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that, among several other things, bans same-sex couples from marrying. On behalf of the plaintiff group, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Georgia and Alston & Bird (an Atlanta law firm) had tried to keep the amendment off of the ballot before the election because it violated constitutional requirements for such initiatives. But the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with a lower-court finding that prevented judicial review until after the election. The plaintiff group re-filed the case immediately following the election, leading to today's ruling.

"Judge Russell's decision is well within established law," said Johnny Stephenson, a partner at Alston & Bird. "This case is about making sure that whenever we seek to alter the constitutional rights of the people of this state-regardless of the underlying subject matter-the process followed by the Legislature is lawful and proper. This ruling upholds that principle and thereby protects the civil liberties of ALL Georgians."

"Today's ruling reinforces how very serious it is to amend our state's constitution," said Jack Senterfitt, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional office in Atlanta. "Just because an issue is a political hot button right now doesn't mean that people can run roughshod over rules put in place to protect the Georgia Constitution from exactly this kind of heated political debate. "

The lawsuit argued:

The amendment is unconstitutional because of the "single-subject rule." The Georgia Constitution requires that ballot initiatives pose a single subject at a time to voters, rather than covering multiple issues.

The amendment currently includes multiple issues, including:

o definition of marriage,

o prohibition of the recognition of other types of unions between same-sex couples,

o an attempt to limit the jurisdiction of Georgia courts,

o an attempt to limit the full faith and credit given to judgments and other proceedings from other states.

"It shouldn't be easy to amend our state's constitution, and it shouldn't be done in a way that violates voters' rights," said Beth Littrell, Associate Legal Director at the ACLU of Georgia. "The Georgia Constitution is the founding document of our state and should be protected to the fullest extent."

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexuals, Transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

ACLU of Georgia works to advance the cause of civil liberties in Georgia, with emphasis on the rights of free speech, free press, free assembly, freedom of religion, due process of law and to take all legitimate action in the furtherance of such purposes without political partisanship.

A Lambda Legal & ACLU of Georgia press release

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