An LGBT-focused civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of three same-sex couples and one surviving spouse of another same-sex partnership. Lambda Legal is seeking class action status to go on and challenge Georgia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
In 2004, Georgia voters successfully passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage that also allowed the state to not recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. Two years later, gay rights groups filed lawsuits, challenging the wording of the ballot question that pertained to marriage, but the state Supreme Court held that the vote was valid. What makes this latest lawsuit different is that Lambda Legal's suit challenges the ban itself, not just the wording.
"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," the organization said in a statement.
Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Could the Peach State be next?
Meet the plaintiffs suing Georgia below:
Rayshawn Chandler, 29 and Avery Chandler, 30
The Chandlers were married in Connecticut last June, according to Lambda Legal. "Both Rayshawn and Avery work as police officers for the Atlanta Police Department. Avery is in the Army Reserves. It’s important for the couple to have their marriage recognized by the state of Georgia because they are planning to have children. The State’s refusal to recognize their marriage means that Avery may not be recognized on the birth certificate as the other parent of their children. It also means that they are not recognized as spouses to each other should either of them get killed in the line of duty."
Michael Bishop, 50 and Shane Thomas, 44
Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas (pictured with their two children Thomas, 5 and Mariella, 3) live in Atlanta and have been in a committed relationship for over seven years. "Michael is a lawyer at AT&T and Shane is a realtor, but their lives revolve around," according to Lambda Legal. "Just like other parents, their lives are filled with ordinary things like getting their little ones off to school, taking them to birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, or visiting Piedmont Park and the Botanical Gardens. They wish to marry not just to express their devotion to each other, but they also do not want their children to carry a sense of uncertainty or inferiority because they know their parents aren’t allowed to be married, like other parents."
Jennifer Sisson, 34
Jennifer Sisson lost her spouse, Pamela Drenner, 49, just weeks ago after a long battle with ovarian cancer. "The couple were married on Valentine’s Day in 2013 in New York at City Hall, after tests showed that Pam’s cancer treatment appeared to have been successful. While they knew Georgia would not recognize the marriage, they wanted to memorialize the commitment and love they felt for each other. When Jennifer thinks about her marriage to Pam, and how to honor her memory, she wants to shout their love from the rooftops. Instead, just after the final hours of Pam’s life, the State erased their marriage by refusing to recognize Pam as married, or Jennifer as her spouse, on the final document memorializing Pam’s existence – her death certificate."
Christopher Inniss, 39 and Shelton Stroman, 42
The couple (pictured with their son, Jonathan, 9) has been together for 13 years. "Chris is a veterinarian and Shelton manages the Snellville Pet Resort, a business the couple owns together," according to Lambda Legal. "Jonathan is old enough to understand that his parents aren’t married but he struggles to understand why. Although they tell him that they are still a family even if the State doesn’t allow them to marry, Jonathan wants them to be married like many of his other friends’ parents. Chris and Shelton find it painful that they cannot fulfill Jonathan’s wish. They also need the protections and dignity that only marriage provides."
A similar joint lawsuit was filed in Florida in February.