Tara Borelli ()
Three same-sex Georgia couples—including the general counsel for AT&T Intellectual Property Corp. and two Atlanta police officers who were legally married out of state—are suing to overturn the state of Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage and force its public officials to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
The Southern regional office of the gay rights group Lambda Legal filed the suit in federal court in Atlanta today, asking a judge to strike down a state statute and an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that limit legal marriages to couples consisting of a man and a woman.
The suit says that Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage inflicts “serious and irreparable harms” on same-sex couples and their children “that cannot be explained by reference to legitimate governmental interests.”
The case—Inniss v. Aderhold, No. 1:14-cv-1180 (N.D. Ga.)—has been assigned to U.S. District Judge William Duffey Jr., a former U.S. attorney who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.
The suit names as defendants Deborah Aderhold, the state registrar and director of vital records who signed Drenner’s death certificate; Fulton County Probate Court Judge Pinkie Toomer, and Gwinnett County Probate Court Clerk Brook Davidson as defendants. The trio of public officials are being sued because, according to the suit, each of them or the public employees they supervise “intentionally performed, participated in, aided, or abetted in some manner the enforcement of the marriage bans.”
The defendants and their counsel could not be reached immediately on Tuesday afternoon.
“Every day that same-sex couples in Georgia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that their families are not worthy of dignity and respect,” Tara Borelli, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal in Atlanta and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said after the suit was filed. “Georgians believe in the Southern values of love, honor and family, but as long as the State of Georgia continues to bar same-sex couples from marriage, it devalues these families and reinforces unfairness and discrimination.”
Lamda’s Elizabeth Littrell said that in filing the suit, “Georgia joins a growing chorus of Southern voices clamoring for marriage equality. The freedom to marry is indeed coming South. We do not want a country divided by unfairness and discrimination. 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.”
Lambda Legal lawyers Gregory Nevins and Susan Sommer are also co-counsel. They are joined by a team of Bryan Cave attorneys led by firm partner William Custer IV, and David Draigh of White & Case in Miami who are pro bono co-counsel in the litigation.
The suit seeks marriage equality for more than 21,000 same-sex couples and their families across the state, said Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, an advocacy organization for the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
The plaintiffs in the litigation include Michael Bishop, 50, who is and AT&T’s General Property Corp. general counsel in Atlanta, and his partner Johnny Shane Thomas, 44, a Realtor who has served in the Air National Guard. Bishop is the incoming president of the Atlanta Intellectual Property Inn of Court, chair of the Atlanta Advisory Council for the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Atlanta Preservation Center. The couple have a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
Other plaintiffs include Rayshawn Chandler, 29 and Avery Chandler, 30, of Jonesboro, both Atlanta police officers who were legally married in Connecticut but want their marriage recognized by the state of Georgia; and Christopher Inniss, 39, and his partner, Shelton Stroman, 42, of Snellville —a same-sex couple who have been together 13 years and have a nine year old son and are seeking the right to marry here.
Decatur resident and Delta Airlines employee Jennifer Sisson, whose wife Pamela Drenner died of ovarian cancer last month, is also a plaintiff in the litigation. The couple were legally married in New York but the state of Georgia has refused to list Sisson as her partner’s wife on Drenner’s death certificate. Drenner’s death certificate, according to the suit, lists her as “never married.” Sisson was listed as “informant” and “partner.”
The Daily Report will have more coverage of this case online tonight and in the print edition Wednesday.