ATLANTA — Lambda Legal announced Tuesday it has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on behalf of a widow and three same-sex couples, 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.”
The suit argues that Georgia’s marriage ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and sends a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that marriage provides.
Lead plaintiffs in the challenge Christopher Inniss, 39, a veterinarian and pet resort owner, and his partner Shelton Stroman, 41, who have been together for 13 years and who have a 9-year-old son.
“Georgia is our home. Our family is here, our business is here, and our community here is a great support for us,” said Inniss. “We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for our family but marriage is the only way to ensure that we are treated as the family that we are. We need the protection that marriage affords.”
Joining Inniss and Stroman as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are:
- Rayshawn Chandler, 29, and Avery Chandler, 30, Atlanta Police Department police officers who have been together for almost three years;
- Michael Bishop, 50, and Shane Thomas, 44, together for seven years and the parents of two children;
- Jennifer Sisson, 34, whose wife, Pamela Drenner, died on March 1 at age 49. Sisson and Drenner were married in New York in 2013. Despite being legally married, the State of Georgia has refused to list Sisson as Drenner wife on her death certificate.
Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 76 percent of voters in 2004. The ban was challenged in courts by gay rights groups who targeted the wording of the ballot question, but the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2006 that the vote was valid.
The ban also prohibits recognition of lawful same-sex marriages performed out-of-state.
“Georgia joins a growing chorus of Southern voices clamoring for marriage equality,” said Beth Littrell, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal. “The freedom to marry is indeed coming south. Same-sex couples are in loving, committed relationships in every region of our nation and should be treated the same way, whether they live in the Empire State or the Peach State.”
The office of Attorney General Sam Olens will defend State Registrar and Director of Vital Records Deborah Aderhold.
Fulton County Probate Court Judge Pinkie Toomer and Gwinnett County Probate Court Clerk Brook Davidson did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Tuesday.