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Georgia judge rules same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

[JURIST] Judge Constance Russell of Fulton County Superior Court [official website] in Georgia has ruled [order, PDF] that the state's same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] ban is unconstitutional because the state constitutional amendment violates the single-subject rule, which prohibits voters from deciding more than one issue at a time. The amendment [text] defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, explicitly prohibits same-sex unions, and refuses to acknowledge same-sex unions licensed or recognized in other states. The measure was overwhelmingly passed in 2004 by 76 percent of voters but Russell ruled that because the amendment addressed both same-sex marriage and civil unions, it is unconstitutional:

This Court is well aware that Amendment One enjoyed great public support. However, the test of a law is not its popularity. Procedural safeguards such as the single subject rule rarely enjoy popular support. But, ultimately it is those safeguards that preserve our liberties, because they ensure that the actions of government are constrained by the rule of law. The issues for the people with respect same sex relationships are what status, if any, those relationships shall have in the eyes of the law. And if they are afforded legal recognition, how shall they be treated under other laws. Those questions are distinctly different from whether same sex marriages should be allowed or recognized in this state. If the larger questions about same sex relationships are to be considered and answered, they must be presented forthrightly - not as an incidental side note to an entirely different matter.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) [official website] expressed concern [statement] over the ruling and said that the "decision highlights the effect activist judges can have on our system of governance." The ban was challenged [JURIST report; brief, PDF; amicus brief, PDF] by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU of Georgia [official websites].

The issue of same-sex marriage has emerged in several states over the past year. In March, the Florida Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] to allow a same-sex marriage ban initiative on the 2008 ballot. In November 2006, Wisconsin and Idaho [JURIST reports] voters will decide whether to add similar amendments to their state constitutions. In February, a New York appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that the state's ban of same-sex marriages was constitutional. Reuters has more. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has local coverage.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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