Georgia Same-Sex Marriage Case Bumped to 11th Circuit

Yesterday, Judge William Duffey of the Northern District of Georgia denied a request from the state to stay the case of Innis v. Aderhold, which challenges Georgia’s ban on same sex marriage, pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court expected in June. The case will precede to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in Atlanta, where it will join cases from Alabama and Florida that struck down those states’ ban on gay marriage. Because those Florida and Alabama cases are already before the 11th Circuit, Judge Duffey’s ruling would have been quickly rendered moot.

Technically, yesterday’s decision allowed the plaintiffs to appeal Judge Duffey’s partial ruling on January 8th. That ruling denied a motion from the state to dismiss the case but also found that Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The 11th Circuit will reconcile Judge Duffey’s partial ruling with the more decisive victories for gay and lesbian couples to our south and west.

Ultimately, the matter will be decided by the Supreme Court in June. But given the possibility that the plaintiffs are being denied a Constitutional right, viewed as “irreparable injury” by the legal system, Judge Duffey decided not to tarry.

Both the plaintiffs and defendants should celebrate the move. The couples suing the state can move past the damaging January 8th ruling and appeal to the decisions in Florida and Alabama, while Attorney General Olens and the state will be represented in the only case that matters (for the next five months.)

Politically, that means Georgia could have same-sex marriage before the end of this legislative session. Anyone wanna speculate what that means for RFRA?

5 comments

  1. xdog says:

    If the Supremes OK gay marriage in Georgia, I speculate that some county officials will complain that issuing marriage licenses to gays would be an assault on their religious beliefs.

    • Chet Martin says:

      From what I understand, Rep. Teasley’s bill might allow them to make that claim unless civil rights law was exempted. As always, IANAL

      • Robbie says:

        That’s my understanding of the bill as well. It was used as an argument (that failed) in North Carolina, too – but those clerks elected to be transferred to other departments, if I remember correctly.

    • Andrew C. Pope says:

      In theory, the county officials could assert that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples violates their religious beliefs. But, the county is constitutionally required to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Constitutional equal rights protections trump whatever protections the county employee has under a Federal or state RFRA. Presently, if I came into the clerk’s office and said, I’m a Catholic and my Jewish fiancee and I would like a marriage license” the clerk could not deny us because she had a religious opposition to interfaith marriages.

      It may not be a big deal in a bigger county, like Fulton, where you can put the “persecuted” employee into a role where they won’t have to issue licenses to gay couples. But in counties where the clerk’s offices have smaller staffs, then its much harder to put a clerk in a position that allows him/her to avoid having to issue gay marriage licenses.

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