Mar­riage case 101:

A guide to un­der­stand­ing Ge­or­gia law­suit

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

There is per­haps no greater de­vel­op­ment in Ge­or­gia LGBT his­tory than the fil­ing of Inniss v. Ader­hold, the fed­eral class ac­tion law­suit that’s at­tempt­ing to strike down Ge­or­gia’s 2004 same-sex mar­riage ban. There’s not go­ing to be a quick “Law & Or­der”-style con­clu­sion to the case, but we’re at a point where many briefs have just been filed and it will likely be Septem­ber be­fore we have another de­vel­op­ment.

So let’s take a step back and as­sess the case, fig­ure out where we are in the process and what peo­ple can do in the mean­time to help.

WHO ARE THE PLAIN­TIFFS?

Christo­pher Inniss, 39, and Shel­ton Stro­man, 42, of Snel­lville, have been to­gether for 13 years. They adopted a child and be­cause the fa­thers have dif­fer­ent last names, there is of­ten con­fu­sion with teach­ers and physi­cians. When Stro­man tried to legally change his last name, he was “be­rated” in court by the judge for want­ing to share the last name of another man, the law­suit states.

Les­bian cou­ple Rayshawn Chandler, 29, and Avery Chandler, 30, of Jones­boro. Rayshawn is a flight at­ten­dant with Delta Air Lines and Avery is a po­lice of­fi­cer for the At­lanta Po­lice Depart­ment and a mem­ber of the U.S. Army Re­serve. The two legally mar­ried in Con­necti­cut on June 26, 2013, and they are plan­ning to have chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

Michael Bishop, 55, and Shane Thomas, 44, have been to­gether for eight years. They have two young chil­dren. They filed for a mar­riage li­cense in Ful­ton County Pro­bate Court on April 10 and were de­nied.

Jen­nifer Sis­son, 34, whose wife, Pamela Dren­ner, 49, died after a long bat­tle with ovar­ian can­cer on March 1. The cou­ple legally mar­ried in New York on Feb. 14, 2013. When Sis­son went to make fu­neral ar­range­ments in Ge­or­gia, she was told, un­der Ge­or­gia law, she could only choose Dren­ner’s mar­i­tal sta­tus as “never mar­ried,” “wid­owed,” or “di­vorced.” The death cer­tifi­cate even­tu­ally read “never mar­ried,” caus­ing tremen­dous pain to Sis­son, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

WHO ARE THE DE­FEN­DANTS?

Deb­o­rah Ader­hold, State Regis­trar and Di­rec­tor of Vi­tal Records.

Brook David­son, Clerk of Gwin­nett County Pro­bate Court.

Judge Pinkie Toomer, judge of Ful­ton County Pro­bate Court.

WHY ARE THOSE THREE BE­ING SUED?

Ader­hold, the state regis­trar, is be­ing sued for denying an amend­ment to Dren­ner’s death cer­tifi­cate rec­og­niz­ing her as legally mar­ried to Sis­son in another state. David­son and Toomer, the Gwin­nett County Pro­bate Court clerk and Ful­ton County Pro­bate Court judge, re­spec­tively, are be­ing sued in their of­fi­cial ca­pac­i­ties for denying mar­riage li­censes to the gay plain­tiffs seek­ing them, there­fore denying them their con­sti­tu­tional rights, the suit states.

WHO ARE THE LAW FIRMS DE­FEND­ING THE PLAIN­TIFFS?

Lambda Le­gal, a civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cus­ing on the rights of the LGBT com­mu­nity and those liv­ing with HIV/AIDS

Lambda Le­gal’s co-coun­sel White & Case, a law firm with 40 of­fices world­wide that’s over 100 years old

Lo­cal coun­sel Bryan Cave, an in­ter­na­tional law firm with an At­lanta of­fice

WHO IS THE JUDGE AND WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT HIM?

Judge Wil­liam S. Duf­fey Jr. was ran­domly as­signed to Inniss v. Ader­hold, per court pro­ce­dure. Duf­fey was a deputy to in­de­pen­dent coun­sel Ken­neth Starr in the White­wa­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which looked into the real es­tate in­vest­ments of Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton and their as­so­ciates. He then served as cam­paign fi­nance chair­man to Pres­i­dent George W. Bush be­fore ap­point­ment to the bench by him.

That might dis­hearten those wor­ried about Judge Duf­fey’s po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions, but the le­gal ex­perts the GA Voice in­ter­viewed about the is­sue were not con­cerned. Alex Reed, an as­sis­tant law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia and an ex­pert on same-sex mar­riage rul­ings, said “I think it’s easy to look at who they’re ap­pointed by or what ca­reers they had prior to be­ing a judge and pre­dict how they might rule,” he says. “But I’ve been skep­ti­cal of a lot of that, par­tic­u­larly around the is­sue of same-sex mar­riage.”

WHAT DO THE LE­GAL EX­PERTS THINK OF THE STRENGTH OF THE CASE?

All of the con­sti­tu­tional law ex­perts the GA Voice spoke to for in­sight on the suit sang the praises of the le­gal team and the plain­tiffs, with ex­pert and HRC At­lanta co-chair An­thony Kreis call­ing it “a mas­ter­ful piece of le­gal strat­egy.”

Reed points out the teams’ in­clu­sion of plain­tiffs with chil­dren and plain­tiffs who are po­lice of­fi­cers or who have served in the armed forces, say­ing it hu­man­izes the le­gal is­sue for those who don’t know some­one who is gay or les­bian.

IS GE­OR­GIA AT­TOR­NEY GEN­ERAL SAM OLENS GO­ING TO DE­FEND THE BAN?

As ex­pected, Ge­or­gia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Sam Olens, a Repub­li­can, an­nounced that his of­fice would de­fend the state’s 2004 same-sex mar­riage ban. The an­nounce­ment was made via a brief Olens’ of­fice filed July 21, which was a mo­tion to dis­miss on be­half of de­fen­dant Deb­bie Ader­hold, the state regis­trar.

Le­gal ex­perts panned Olens’ brief, with Kreis, the con­sti­tu­tional scholar, call­ing it “a very weak case.”

Hil­lel Levin, an as­so­ciate law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia and an ex­pert on same-sex mar­riage rul­ings, says, “Un­sur­pris­ingly, th­ese are the ex­act same ar­gu­ments that have been re­jected time after time by other courts around the coun­try over the past year.”

HOW DID THE OTHER TWO DE­FEN­DANTS RE­SPOND TO THE LAW­SUIT?

At­tor­neys for the other two de­fen­dants, David­son and Toomer, filed briefs later the same day Olens did. The lawyer for David­son ar­gues that the de­fen­dant has to follow the let­ter of the law in her du­ties.

The majority of Judge Toomer’s re­sponse is boil­er­plate and does not con­tain any con­sti­tu­tional bomb­shells, mostly stat­ing that as a ju­di­cial of­fi­cer she is re­quired to com­ply with state laws and the Ge­or­gia Con­sti­tu­tion and that this role also grants her “ab­so­lute ju­di­cial im­mu­nity” to such claims.

SO WHAT HAP­PENS NEXT?

In a July 25 court fil­ing, Judge Duf­fey granted the plain­tiffs an ex­ten­sion of time to re­spond to Ader­hold’s mo­tion to dis­miss (i.e. the Olens brief), and they now have un­til Septem­ber 5 to do so. So the ball is back in Lambda Le­gal and the rest of the plain­tiffs’ team’s court. Then At­tor­ney Gen­eral Olens has the right to file a re­ply brief.

WHAT CAN I DO IN THE MEAN­TIME?

The GA Voice has not made any of­fi­cial en­dorse­ments for this Novem­ber’s elec­tions, but for those who want to put the peo­ple in of­fice who can make the largest im­pact in strik­ing down Ge­or­gia’s same-sex mar­riage ban, they would do well to know who Greg Hecht is.

Hecht, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for Ge­or­gia At­tor­ney Gen­eral who will face Olens in Novem­ber, has an­nounced his support for same-sex mar­riage and con­firmed that if elected, he would not de­fend the ban.

So if Hecht should win, and the case is still go­ing on when he takes of­fice, he would be in a po­si­tion to drop the state’s de­fense in Inniss v. Ader­hold. Hecht’s stance on the is­sue is sure to make him a ma­jor draw for the LGBT com­mu­nity and the more pro­gres­sive blocs of Ge­or­gia vot­ers as they head to the polls in Novem­ber.

Also, Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, the state’s largest LGBT po­lit­i­cal and ad­vo­cacy group, con­tin­ues to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and is al­ways in need of vol­un­teers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.