ATLANTA (RNS) Seven people filed a federal class-action lawsuit Tuesday (April 22) challenging Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The suit, by three gay couples and a woman who was unable to get recognized on the state death certificate when her same-sex spouse died, makes Georgia the last Southern state, and one of the last in the nation, to face a challenge to its ban on gay marriage.

“This lawsuit is really about these loving couples trying to protect their families in the same way that different-sex couples can do,” said Tara Borelli, senior attorney with Lambda Legal, the national legal group seeking full recognition of the legal rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people.

Participants gather during a rally celebrating the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling at Ilus W. Davis Park in Kansas City, Mo. on Wednesday (June 26, 2013).  RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Participants gather during a rally celebrating the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling at Ilus W. Davis Park in Kansas City, Mo., on  June 26, 2013. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

There are 65 pending lawsuits in federal courts of appeal, federal district courts and state courts challenging marriage laws in 30 states and Puerto Rico, according to Lambda Legal’s analysis.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June, in a decision that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they’re legal. Justice Antonin Scalia said in his dissent that the ruling “arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

His words seem prophetic: Since that ruling, federal judges in Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia have ruled that state laws banning same-sex marriages were unconstitutional; those decisions are being appealed.

Georgia, where 76 percent of voters ratified a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages in 2004, was late to the table because “there’s been an attempt to make strategic decisions about the places where we’d have the best chance of success,” Borelli said. “But it became clear as time went on that Georgia should be on that list.”

Views on the matter seem to be shifting: A poll in September by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 48 percent of Georgians favor gay marriage and 43 percent oppose it.

Two of the Georgia plaintiffs, Christopher Inniss, 39, and Shelton Stroman, 42, of Snellville, have been together for 13 years and have a son, Jonathan, 9. The men said at a news conference Tuesday that they value their privacy and initially did not want to sue.

“But it became really easy when we thought about our lives,” Stroman said, adding that they want Jonathan “to be able to celebrate marriage like his friends do with his parents.”

Another plaintiff, Jennifer Sisson, 34, of Decatur, said her spouse, Pamela Drenner, 49, died in March after a long battle with ovarian cancer. They had married on Valentine’s Day 2013 in New York, and Sisson was Drenner’s caregiver in those final, difficult months.

Sisson said she was devastated that she could not be named as spouse on the death certificate. “To have that as kind of the final act … was absolutely, tremendously hard,” she said.



  1. This is the tactics of the marriage equality opponents being turned on them with a vengeance. Judicial jujitsu. Turning the energy of the attack of an opponent against them.

    Had Georgia not bothered with the ban, it is unlikely gay marriage would be accepted through legislative means. The marriage equality opponents felt the need for underhanded legislative means through constitutional amendment. Doing so they thought it would foreclose any future vote allowing gay marriage since overturning an amendment needs more than a majority vote. So even if the popular attitudes went against them, they thought they would get their way.

    The impatience and maliciousness of the anti-gay political crowd is working against them. In the end, they have provided the means to destroy their efforts through judicial action. The amendment is going to be crushed by the Federal Court. Marriage equality opponents lack rational, secular and sane legal arguments.

  2. We all know these Hate Votes intended to deprive LGBT Americans of the same right to legal marriage everyone else takes for granted were first cooked up by Karl Rove as a GOP Dirty Trick® to get his boss, Bush, elected and re-elected. We know Bush then told the IRS to ignore the churches that violated their IRS 503c3 regulations by cheating on these Hate Votes.

    In the most notorious anti-gay Hate Vote of all, the 2008 California H8te Vote that actually took away the established right LGBT Californians had to legal marriage, we saw that anti-gays committed criminal acts to throw the vote. The federal judge who revoked the H8te Vote had in his possession an email written by Catholic bishops to Mormon leaders in which they both agreed to violate California campaign finance laws to throw the H8te Vote by making secret, illegal cash and in-kind contributions to the H8te Vote. The email serves as proof positive they knew they were breaking the law; the email itself is an act of criminal collusion. We know the Mormons made the Hate Videos shown on TV, but they refused to report these in-kind contributions as required by law. We know Mormons were told by their leaders to make large, secret contributions to the H8te Vote under pain of excommunication, and we know Mormons sent their church members from out of state. Mormon leaders were required by California law to report these contributions, but they refused. We know Mormons operated secret, illegal call centers in Idaho and Utah from which they made deceptive calls, because a million Californians reported these deceptive calls where anti-gays claimed a “yes” vote would support marriage equality.

    Even with criminal activity never seen before in California at this level, anti-gays were only able to get their H8te Vote to barely squeak by by 2%. And, of course, the H8te Vote has been revoked, the US Supreme Court upheld that revocation, and marriage equality has been restored in California.

    Authorities in Washington State caught Mormons supplying the same Hate Videos but again refusing to report their in-kind contribution as required by law. Maine authorities caught the anti-gay Hate Cult NOM red-handed in 2009. NOM’s appeal of their conviction was rejected by the US Supreme Court, but NOM is STILL in violation of Maine campaign finance and disclosure laws by refusing to state who gave them the millions of dollars they spent in Maine. Many Americans believe it came from Mormon leaders, and NOM is committing criminal acts to hide that fact.

    What if there was an anti-gay Hate Vote, and anti-gays DID NOT tell lies, demonize LGBT Americans, and commit criminal acts to throw these votes? Voters in FOUR US States turned down anti-gay Hate Votes in November 2012.

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