Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
ATLANTA — The Christian Coalition takes a traditional approach to marriage, but, at least in this case, an untraditional approach to its legal work. The nonprofit organization plans to intervene as a defendant in a suit seeking to overturn Georgia’s recent constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The rationale: The Christian Coalition’s interests in preserving heterosexual marriage may diverge from that of the sole defendant in the suit, Gov. George “Sonny” Perdue. Sadie Fields, state chairwoman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, said her group was acting to support the state’s voters. “We feel it is important because the people of the state voted in such a resounding manner to protect the sanctity of marriage,” said Fields. “It is right that they should have as much representation in this matter as possible.” Shortly after the amendment was passed, supporters of same-sex unions, including Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur, and Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, filed suit challenging the amendment. On Dec. 16, the Christian Coalition moved to intervene in the suit, O’Kelley v. Perdue, 2004CV93494 (Fult. Super. filed Nov. 9, 2004). The state attorney general’s office, however, did not seem to welcome the Christian Coalition’s overture. “Our office is unsure as to why the Christian Coalition believes Gov. Perdue is incapable of representing their interest in the litigation,” said Russ Willard, spokesman for the AG’s office. “In effect, the only argument they could make is that Gov. Perdue is incapable of discharging his duty of upholding and defending state law.” In its memorandum of law, the Christian Coalition acknowledged that the governor aims to uphold the election results, but went on to say other factors may influence Perdue’s actions. The governor “will have to balance various interests, including social and political ramifications, cost of litigation and the welfare of the general public, that could conflict with Christian Coalition’s personal interests in the preservation of traditional marriage,” the Liberty Counsel lawyers wrote in the memorandum. “Consequently, the interests of defendant and Christian Coalition are not identical and this court cannot assume that defendant will adequately defend the amendment.” Fields said those arguments are not meant to be a criticism of Perdue or his legal counsel. “I certainly believe Gov. Perdue is going to do everything in his power to ensure the sanctity of marriage in this state and to protect the marriage amendment as passed by the people of Georgia,” she said. “This is in no way a reflection on the governor’s position. � This is simply a reinforcement of a voice that needs to be heard because we represent a large number of people around the state.” One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Elizabeth Littrell of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there is no reason for the court to grant the Christian Coalition motion. “The defendants’ interests are more than adequately represented by the attorney general’s office,” she said. “We’re hopeful the judge will deny their motion to intervene.” In that motion, the Christian Coalition cites its own role in pushing for the passage of the state constitutional amendment, saying that its knowledge of “voters’ perceptions of and perspectives on” the ballot initiative will be necessary for the court to consider, because the plaintiffs “have based their challenge on a supposed misunderstanding” on the part of the electorate. That misunderstanding, the plaintiffs allege, stems from the ballot language for the amendment. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the ballot language violated the state’s single-subject rule by “logrolling” several subjects (including the definition of marriage, the question of civil unions, benefits for same-sex partners and the jurisdiction of the courts) into one ballot question. As a result, the complaint says, the amendment presented voters with an illegal “Hobson’s choice.” The complaint also says the 23-word referendum question that appeared on the ballot was “affirmatively misleading” because it did not accurately reflect the proposed 136-word amendment. The amendment passed by slightly more than a 3-1 margin in the Nov. 2 election. At present, the will of the majority of the electorate is represented by the case’s sole defendant, the governor and his lawyers at the state attorney general’s office. The Christian Coalition is represented by Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based group whose Web site describes it as a “litigation, education and policy organization.” The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Alston & Bird, sued Perdue in his official capacity as the government officer responsible for enforcing the new law. The Christian Coalition’s filings say it is eligible to intervene as a defendant because Georgia law allows a party to enter a case when three conditions are met: the applicant has “an interest relating to the transaction,” the disposition of the action may “impair or impede its ability to protect that interest” and the applicant’s interest is not “adequately represented by the existing parties in the suit.” If the plaintiffs succeed, Fields stated in an affidavit filed contemporaneously with the motion to intervene, then same-sex couples could be “married” in another state and subsequently compel the state of Georgia to recognize their marriage even though same-sex marriage is illegal here by statute. In addition, the affidavit says, a win for the plaintiffs would “undo years of work by the Christian Coalition in seeking to preserve the institution of marriage.” This is not the first time someone has tried to intervene in litigation related to Georgia’s amendment banning gay marriage. Three months ago, the author of the General Assembly legislation authorizing the amendment referendum, state Sen. Mike Crotts, R-Conyers, and several other lawmakers who co-sponsored the resolution, asked to be named as defendants in a related suit seeking to prevent the amendment from being placed on the Nov. 2 ballot. Fulton, Ga., Superior Court Judge Constance Russell, who oversaw and ultimately dismissed that suit, dispatched Crott’s petition with a one-line order refusing to let him intervene. When she later dismissed that case, Russell relied on a 1920 Georgia Supreme Court decision, Gaskins v. Dorsey, 150 Ga. 638, to say that prior to an election, the courts are barred from interfering in the legislative process. The judge compared the idea of a court stepping into the election process to the Legislature interfering with a jury verdict. The plaintiffs appealed Russell’s decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. Following oral arguments on Oct. 19, the justices ruled 5-2 that the court lacked jurisdiction until after the Nov. 2 election. As promised, the plaintiffs filed a new suit shortly after the Secretary of State’s office certified the election results. Russell recently issued a scheduling order saying she would hear oral argument on all dispositive motions in the Perdue case during or after the week of Jan. 10, as her calendar permits. Steven H. Pollak is a reporter with the Fulton County Daily Report, a Recorder affiliate based in Atlanta.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.