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Ga. Supreme Court rules out same-sex unions from Vt.

ATLANTA (BP)–The Georgia Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, has let stand a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling that a Vermont civil union is not the equivalent of marriage in Georgia.

Additionally, the court ruled July 15 that even if a civil union is deemed to be a “marriage” in Vermont, it would not be recognized as such in Georgia. The decision also upheld the Georgia Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to one man and one woman.

Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty law organization, noted, “This now brings to an end the first case in the country to rule that a Vermont civil union is not portable outside Vermont, that a state defense of marriage act may ban same-sex marriage, and that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act does not require one state to recognize out-of-state same-sex unions.”

The case, Burns v. Burns, involves the divorce of Susan and Darian Burns several years ago, in which Darian Burns was given custody of their three children, with Susan Burns retaining visitation rights. The two entered into a consent decree visitation agreement that provided that neither party could have overnight stays with the children during such times as either one cohabited with an adult to whom he or she was not married.

After the state of Vermont enacted a civil union law on July 1, 2000, Susan Burns and her female companion obtained a Vermont civil union on July 4 and then returned to Georgia where they have continued to reside. Susan then filed papers in court arguing she could visit the children while her lesbian companion was present because, she claimed, the two were now legally married. She argued before the Georgia Court of Appeals that the Vermont civil union was the equivalent of marriage and that Georgia should recognize it as such, that Georgia’s Defense of Marriage Act was void, that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and that her right to privacy was violated.

A unanimous Court of Appeals, however, described Susan Burns’ position as having “a flawed premise; she and her female companion were not married in Vermont but instead entered into a ‘civil union.'” The court went on to say that “even if Vermont had purported to legalize same-sex marriages, such would not be recognized in Georgia, the place where the Consent Decree was ordered and agreed to by both parties….”

The appeals court further noted that the Georgia Defense of Marriage Act “clearly states that it is the public policy of Georgia ‘to recognize the union only of a man and woman. Marriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state.'” Citing the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, the court also noted that Georgia “is not required to give full faith and credit to same-sex marriages of other states.”

The appeals court further noted that, “What constitutes a marriage in the State of Georgia is a legislative function, not a judicial one, and as judges we are duty-bound to follow the clear language of the statute. The Georgia legislature has chosen not to recognize marriage between persons of the same sex, and any constitutional challenge to Georgia’s marriage statute should be addressed to the Georgia Supreme Court.”

Following the appeals court ruling, Susan Burns asked the Georgia Supreme Court to reverse the decision. Instead, the court let the ruling stand July 15.

Staver, of Orlando, Fla., who represented Darian Burns in the case, said, “The argument that Georgia should recognize a Vermont civil union as marriage is akin to an argument that Georgia should recognize a Vermont driver’s license as a pilot’s license. Civil unions in Vermont are not the equivalent of marriage.”

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