Ga. gay-rights groups see hope in California ruling, politicians oppose it

ATLANTA -- Gay-rights groups in Georgia see reasons for hope in the ruling of a federal judge who struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, but Georgia politicians vow to fight it here.
All three major-party candidates for governor said today they favor keeping the gay-marriage ban in Georgia’s constitution. Voters approved it overwhelmingly in 2004.
The Georgia Supreme Court upheld a 2006 challenge to how the amendment was structured on the ballot, but it has never ruled on the state constitutionality of barring same-sex couples from marrying.
The federal court ruling Wednesday did by concluding that it heard no evidence that the government had a rational interest in prohibiting homosexual marriage, which it called a violation of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it discriminates against gays and lesbians.
“Indeed, the evidence shows (the ban) does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples,” wrote U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker.
Walker’s decision is almost certain to be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until the nation’s high court hands down a decision, Walker’s opinion has no bearing on Georgia’s ban.
“I think it’s premature to say this would make a change in Georgia,” said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “… It may begin the process that may lead to challenging the ban in Georgia.”
The gay-rights group Georgia Equality estimates as many as 25,000 couples in the state could be waiting for a chance to marry should the ban end here. The group’s executive director, Jeff Graham, felt positive.
“It does give us hope here that this judge has acknowledged that our relationships, our families, are not a threat to others,” he said.
But neither Roy Barnes, the Democratic nominee for governor, nor Karen Handel and Nathan Deal, the candidates in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination, want to lift Georgia’s ban. All issued statements opposed to Walker’s ruling.
“I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Barnes said. “I’m not in favor of changing state law.”
Handel agreed, adding that it is similar to laws that prohibit marriage between siblings, multiple marriages and those of people under the age of consent.
“Freedom to marry is not a right,” she said. “… We have a right as a society to determine who can marry, and we have decided that marriage should be between a man and a woman."
Deal’s campaign manager Brian Robinson argued over which of the candidates best would defend Georgia’s ban.
“He’s also reminding them that his principles won't wave like a field of grain based on which way the wind is blowing that day,” Robinson said.

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