Gay marriage vote cleared for Tuesday ballot

By Ed Brock

Darrell Johnson of Locust Grove has been married once, and he'd like to be married again some day.

The problem is, 44-year-old Johnson's second marriage is likely to be to another man, something already illegal in the state of Georgia. On Tuesday the people of the state are to vote on an amendment that would make the ban a part of the state's constitution.

It's an amendment religious leaders call necessary to defend the sanctity of the institution of marriage.

Johnson, as one might expect, plans to vote against the amendment.

"I feel it's very confusing. It's very deceiving and it's going to confuse a lot of people," Johnson said.

The confusion to which Johnson is referring is also the basis of a legal challenge to the proposed amendment that was posed to the state's Supreme Court in the case O'Kelley et al. v. Cox, Secretary of State.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of a Fulton County Superior Court judge and decided that the amendment would remain on the ballot.

According to the Supreme Court ruling, "the judiciary does not have any jurisdiction to block further consideration of the proposed amendment at this formative stage in the legislative process." But the decision also said that the amendment "certainly can be challenged in the event it is ?enacted.'"

The lawsuit alleged that the proposal violated the state's single subject rule because it covers several subjects including civil unions and the jurisdiction of Georgia courts. And like Johnson the suit alleged that the ballot question was misleading because it does not include the full text of the amendment.

The ballot question is "Shall the Constitution be amended so as to provide that this state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman?"

This is the rest of the actual amendment.

"Paragraph I. Recognition of marriage.

(a) This state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman. Marriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state.

(b) No union between persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage. This state shall not give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other state or jurisdiction respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other state or jurisdiction. The courts of this state shall have no jurisdiction to grant a divorce or separate maintenance with respect to any such relationship or otherwise to consider or rule on any of the parties' respective rights arising as a result of or in connection with such relationship."

Also in the decision the Supreme Court ruled that there was not sufficient time before the election to hold a trial on the case. Presiding Justice Leah Ward Sears and Justice Robert Benham dissented from the decision with Sears saying the amendment does violate the single subject rule.

"Georgia voters who are torn between divergent opinions regarding various subjects contained in a multiple-subject amendment measure will encounter the constitutionally coercive dilemma of being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions regarding on subject and their equally sincere views regarding one or more other subjects contained in the proposal," Sears wrote.

Johnson said that most gay people are especially concerned about being denied legal status as next of kin when visiting their partner in hospital. He has also heard horror stories from friends who are in long-term relationships and end up being denied the rights to which heterosexual spouses are entitled.

One couple had been together for 28 years and took pains to cover all the bases legally to allow each partner to inherit their joint property after one of them died. But there was a loophole in the law that allowed for a blood relative to step in and take everything, and the surviving member of the couple encountered one family member of his deceased partner who took advantage of that to grab the house that the couple had shared.

"You can draw up all the legal papers you want, but there's always that one word that can trip the whole thing up," Johnson said.

The First Baptist Church of Jonesboro supports the amendment, said the church's pastor the Rev. Dean Haun.

"We are encouraging people to vote for the amendment because we believe it is a vote for the traditional family," Huan said. "We also believe that marriage is an institution that was started by God, not by man," Haun said.

Haun said the first part of the amendment is what concerns most voters and he believes it will pass.

But Martha Tanner of Morrow, a former member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG Riverdale/Metro South) and her fellow members of the First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta have been rallying against the amendment. Tanner, who is heterosexual but joined PFLAG to understand a male friend's announcement that he was homosexual, said she was very disappointed by the Supreme Court decision.

"I just feel like they're not telling the whole truth. It needs to be explained in detail," Tanner said. "I just feel like it's setting us back 25 years or more. And by us I mean the American people."

Tanner said the amendment would definitely be challenged.

"I'll be out there fighting for it to be challenged," Tanner said.

Other supporters of the amendment praised the decision.

"I'm absolutely delighted that the Georgia Supreme Court saw fit to allow this to go forward and give the voters of Georgia a voice on an issue of this magnitude," said Sadie Fields, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia. "I'm delighted a majority of this court saw fit not to encroach into the legislative branch of government."

Attorney Jack Senterfitt, who challenged the amendment on behalf of the gay rights legal organization, Lambda Legal, said, "We are disappointed the court declined to reach the merits before the election. However, we are encouraged by the fact that the court did not say that the merits could not be reached. They simply said this could be challenged after the election."

In the meantime, he said, the group believes more attention has been brought to the amendment and "we're very hopeful the citizens of Georgia will reject it."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.