Gay amendment redux

Is the GOP hoping for Supreme Court defeat?

Here's what state Republican leaders aren't saying about the new amendment banning gay marriage: That their fondest wish is that it be overturned by the courts.

Say what? After months of promoting Amendment 1, why would Georgia's GOP politicians want to see the measure tossed out?

Because it would mean that, in 2006, they'll get to do it all over again.

To understand why many Republicans are hoping the gay-marriage amendment gets shot down by the Georgia Supreme Court, you have to understand why they — as well as the GOP in 10 other states — put it on the ballot in the first place.

As a measure to spur conservatives to the polls, the gay-marriage amendment was Georgia's most successful GOP campaign issue since, well, the state flag. After Sonny Perdue used the flag issue to defeat Gov. Roy Barnes and lead a GOP takeover of the state Senate, he kicked the rebel emblem to the curb faster than you could whistle "Dixie."

What's more, if the courts overturn the amendment, Republicans can continue to rail against the "activist judges" on the Georgia Supreme Court — namely, black justices Leah Sears and Robert Benham — and then recycle the amendment in two years, saving them the effort of having to think up another wedge issue for the next election.

Besides, if they lose in court, there's no harm done: Gay marriage is already illegal in Georgia.

"I'm sure the GOP hopes this is the gift that keeps on giving," quips state Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur. "This was a cynical political ploy. Nobody seriously thought that our statutory ban on gay marriage was threatened."

Adelman is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, filed Nov. 9, challenging the amendment.

The lawsuit argues that the amendment's authors crammed several distinct issues into one ballot item in violation of Georgia's "single-subject rule," says Jack Senterfitt, lead attorney for Lambda Legal, who, along with lawyers from the ACLU and Alston and Bird, filed the suit.

State law mandates that amendment referenda can only address one issue at a time — in this case, a ban on same-sex marriage — Senterfitt explains. Not surprisingly, that's the only issue that appeared on the ballot. The parts of Amendment 1 that voters didn't get to see ban civil unions, deny Georgia courts jurisdiction in domestic disputes between same-sex couples and — in a particularly vaguely worded section — decree that gays are not "entitled to the benefits of marriage."

That last bit is seen by many as an overt attack on the domestic partner benefits now offered by such local Fortune 500 companies as Home Depot, Delta and Coke, as well as some of the metro area's largest employers, including the city of Atlanta and Emory University.

"It's really one of the most anti-business stances imaginable," says former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, who was a plaintiff in a battle between the city and state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, a Republican who unsuccessfully tried to prohibit private insurance providers from offering domestic partner coverage.

Under Amendment 1, we also could see hospitals deny visitation rights to same-sex partners, lawsuits contesting the right of gay couples to inherit each other's property and even a legal attack on the ability of gay couples to adopt children or become foster parents.

State Rep. Karla Drenner, Georgia's only openly gay legislator, believes that most Georgians would have had second thoughts about voting for the amendment if they'd been made aware of all its insidious implications.

"You can't take away due process from gay people simply because they're gay," Drenner says. "Most Americans believe gay people should have basic civil rights, such as the ability to inherit or enter into legal agreements. The Constitution's purpose is to give people rights, not take them away."

Until a seismic political shift occurs, however, expect such newly minted right-wing Republican lawmakers as Nancy Schaefer, a Stone-Age moralist who just won a state Senate seat, to float additional legislation aimed at separating gays — single or coupled — from their rights, benefits and privileges.