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Judge strikes down Ga. marriage amend., trumping 76% approval

ATLANTA (BP)–In a ruling sure to increase calls for passage of a federal marriage amendment, a Georgia state judge ruled May 16 that the state’s constitutional marriage amendment — approved by 76 percent of voters in 2004 — violates the state constitution.

In tossing out the initiative, Judge Constance Russell ruled that the amendment is unconstitutional because it deals with two subjects — “gay marriage” and same-sex civil unions. The amendment bans both. The ruling itself did not deal with the legality of “gay marriage” — only with a technical legal question as to whether the amendment’s language was constitutional.

Homosexual activists filed the lawsuit shortly after voters overwhelmingly adopted the amendment in November 2004, and both sides had been awaiting a decision.

The Georgia constitution prohibits amendments from dealing with more than one subject. Amendment supporters, though, contend that “gay marriage” and same-sex civil unions comprise the same issue. Legal in Connecticut and Vermont, civil unions grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage without using the word “marriage.”

“People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place although not marriage,” Russell wrote, according to the Associated Press. “The single-subject rule protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote.”

A similar lawsuit was filed against Louisiana’s amendment, although the state’s high court ruled that its amendment was OK, even though it also banned both “gay marriage” and civil unions.

The ruling in Georgia is expected to be appealed.

“I am very disappointed by this decision to countermand the people of Georgia’s voice in defining marriage in our state as a union between a man and a woman,” Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, said in a statement. “This decision highlights the effect activist judges can have on our system of governance.

“The people of Georgia knew exactly what they were doing when an overwhelming 76 percent voted in support of this constitutional amendment. It is sad that a single judge has chosen to reverse their decision. I am carefully assessing the options to ensure that the will of the people will not be thwarted.”

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to debate the Marriage Protection Amendment, S.J.Res. 1, in June. Supporters of a federal amendment contend that rulings such as the one in Georgia make a national solution necessary.

Including Georgia, 19 states have passed marriage amendments, and at least seven more states are expected to vote on them this year. The amendments prevent state courts from legalizing “gay marriage.” An amendment has never lost at the ballot.

Massachusetts’ highest court legalized “gay marriage,” and courts in New Jersey, New York and Washington state could follow this year. None have marriage amendments.

The Georgia marriage amendment states in part: “This state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman. Marriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state. No union between persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage.”
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage.

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