Georgians split on marriage ban

Both sides of gay-rights issue find comfort in judge's decision

ATLANTA --- Gay-rights groups in Georgia see reasons for hope in the ruling of a federal judge who struck down California's ban on homosexual marriage, but Georgia politicians vow to fight it here.


All three major-party candidates for governor said Thursday 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 homosexual couples from marrying.

The federal court judge 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.

"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 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, the 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. 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.

In California

SAN FRANCISCO --- Supporters of California's gay-marriage ban have filed an appeal of a federal judge's ruling striking down the voter-approved law.

The appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday was expected, as lawyers on both sides of the legal battle repeatedly vowed to carry the fight to a higher court if they lost.

On Wednesday, the federal judge in San Francisco overturned California's Proposition 8, which restricts a marriage to one man and one woman.

-- Associated Press