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Gay marriage ban, take two

A quick appeal?

Last week, a Fulton County Superior Court judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. Now Gov. Sonny Perdue wants the Georgia Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

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And for a majority of the state's Supreme Court justices, the idea of a quick appeal might be ... appealing.

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Four of the seven state Supreme Court justices are up for election in November. If they don't hear the appeal by the time qualifying for state judicial seats ends June 30, they will open themselves up to criticism from their opponents (are the Supreme Court judges at odds with the will of the voters?) to which they will not be permitted to respond, since the case will still be pending.

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Of course, judges are supposed to be above political pressures. But judges are people, too.

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Still, Bill Clark, director of public and political affairs for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, says he doesn't think politics will play into the judges' decision to schedule the appeal.

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"I don't know whether there is an ethical or moral constraint on whether they should expedite it or not," Clark says. "But I think it is largely a function of how crowded their calendar is."

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The Georgia Supreme Court's seven justices will vote on whether to hear an appeal shortly after all the paperwork gets processed — probably sometime in the next week, according to Rick Diguette, a Supreme Court spokesman.

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Perdue says that if the Supreme Court doesn't take up the matter by Aug. 7, he will call a special legislative session so lawmakers can draft a new amendment banning gay marriage. A special session would cost taxpayers $30,000 to $40,000 a day.

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Generally, appeals are not heard within three months, but Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker has requested that the appeal be expedited.

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If a special legislative session is convened, an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage — which is already illegal in Georgia — will most likely be approved.

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A ban on civil unions, however, is not such a sure thing.

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Rep. Jill Chambers of Atlanta, the only Republican House member to vote against the same-sex marriage amendment in 2004, says she doesn't think there is as much opposition to civil unions in the House as there is to gay marriage.

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"I'm not sure if the public has the fever that they had a couple years ago on this," Chambers says. "If we go into special session, there is a chance that the civil union part could possibly not pass on the House floor."

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In 2004, the amendment banning gay marriages and civil unions barely squeaked by the House, though since then nearly 30 House seats have come under Republican control.

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If a ban on civil unions fails, it would leave the door open for future legislation that could grant partner rights to gay couples.