Sam Olens on gay marriage: Georgia will respect Supreme Court decision

When it comes to the U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage, Georgia will not be Alabama, Attorney General Sam Olens said early Wednesday.

The attorney general said his legal defense of Georgia's constitutional ban on gay marriage doesn't foreshadow any rearguard action should the high court overturn state bans on same-sex unions this summer. Said Olens:

"There’s a distinction between me defending the law, and the order from the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court rules on an issue, we’re going to follow the order...

"We're going to encourage all those agencies that have a policy role that they immediately follow the law. I cringe just as much when an attorney general seeks to defy the law as anyone else. When the U.S. Supreme Court rules, it's not time for criticism. It's not time for banter. It's time for the lawyer to play lawyer, and to ensure that everyone follows that law."

Olens made his remarks during an appearance before the Atlanta Press Club. Georgia is one of a number of states with bans on same-sex marriage that are being challenged in federal court. All have been on hold since the Supreme Court decided it would address the issue. Arguments are scheduled for next Tuesday.

Religious conservatives and legal scholars alike are predicting that the high court will overturn bans on same-sex unions. Gay marriages have proceeded in several states where the prohibitions have been successfully challenged -- including Alabama.

Earlier this year, when Supreme Court justices refused to put a temporary hold on the issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples, that state's chief justice, Roy Moore, advised local probate judges to refuse to comply.

That won't happen here, Olens said:

"If the court rules that Georgia’s constitutional amendment is legal, the press release from my office will be that the Supreme Court has spoken. We’ll follow the law. If the Supreme Court at the end of June says that constitutional amendments like Georgia’s are unconstitutional, the press release from my office is going to be, the Supreme Court has spoken, and Georgia’s going to follow the law."

But Olens expressed no regrets about his defense of Georgia's constitutional ban, which was approved by voters in 2004, and said he had no discretion in the matter.

"I disagree 100 percent with those state attorney generals who decided they were part of the judicial branch and not the executive branch," said Olens. "I think it's frankly both inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws of the country when state attorneys general want to call balls and strikes."

The attorney skirted questions about his personal views on the debate, but said he had attempted to keep the discussion on a high plane. “In the case of same-sex marriage, I think our office has tried – as best as we can – to show compassion, and to, frankly, limit our discussion to it being solely legal."

On the related, religious liberty front, the attorney general was also asked if was possible to craft legislation that would protect individual religious freedom and yet also forbid discrimination in the marketplace based on someone's religious beliefs.

Olens said this was, in fact, possible. But he wouldn't say more.

As attorney general, Olens has also been a defender of the state’s sunshine laws – particularly when it comes to requiring local governments to obey state open meeting laws. Said Olens to the press club:

“I still think y’all spend ‘way too much time on open records and not open meetings. I’m sorry, but when you see a meeting with 83 items and it lasts 15 minutes – you weren’t at the right meeting.”


The Times of Israel is reporting that President Jimmy Carter's forthcoming visit to Israel is not being met with open arms by Jerusalem's top officials:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have turned down invitations to meet with former US president Jimmy Carter during his upcoming visit to Israel over his “anti-Israel” views. ...

A senior diplomatic official told Channel 10, which broke the news, that Carter is “a disaster for Israel,” and that all Israeli leaders should refrain from meeting the former president, due to his “anti-Israel positions.”

The official was also quoted as saying that while Netanyahu and Rivlin refused to meet with him, Israel had approved Carter’s request to visit the Gaza Strip.


About 600 people showed up to a public hearing last night outside Savannah on a proposed pipeline through coastal Georgia, mostly to protest against it. From the Savannah Morning News:

Heading into the first official hearing about the Palmetto Pipeline on Tuesday evening, dozens of protesters lined the long driveway into the Richmond Hill City Center, wearing anti-pipeline T-shirts and carrying signs such as “DOT asleep at the wheel” and “Keep jobs in Georgia” and “Governor say no deal.”

Inside, Department of Transportation staffers scrambled as a room set up for 150 attendees filled to capacity. They doubled the number of chairs, then opened an adjoining room to accommodate a crowd that swelled to nearly 600 people.

Most of those attendees opposed the pipeline Texas-based Kinder Morgan plans to build across 210 miles of Georgia to bring gasoline and diesel from the Gulf and ethanol from South Carolina to North Augusta, S.C., Savannah and Jacksonville. The current route runs through the property of 396 Georgia landowners across 12 counties as the pipeline parallels first the Savannah River then the coast to Florida. Kinder Morgan applied on Feb. 13 to the Georgia DOT for a needs certificate that will give it the right to condemn property.


Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, touting Georgia's criminal justice reforms and the successes of Clayton County.

The committee is looking into juvenile justice grants as part of its effort to update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. We caught up with Teske after the hearing, and the judge said he's been pleasantly surprised with new chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Said Teske:

"When the Republican took over the Senate, and Republicans in general are not exactly known for your social reforms. Unfortunately sometimes juvenile justice is seen sometimes as a social reform. I said, 'OK maybe this re-authorization is not going to happen in a long time. But then Sen. Grassley steps up and says, 'I'm going to make juvenile justice an issue, a No. 1 priority.' And I'm going, 'Oh my goodness.' ...

"Instead of a school to prison pipeline, let's talk about cradle to career pipeline. And that's what we're doing in Georgia, and that's really what the JJDPA seeks to do as well."

On that note, we have a couple of stories on the premium site this week looking at the big picture of criminal justice reform in the South and in Georgia, where conservatives are leading the way.


Gov. Nathan Deal is sticking to his wait-and-see approach to the ethics reform proposal that once was a staple of his re-election campaign.

The governor had talked for months on the campaign trail about a vast overhaul of the state watchdog agency as part of his re-election platform. He put that plan on hold for a year, amid great criticism from Democrats, as other fixes showed signs of progress.

With the ethics agency now down to four finalists for its top job, Deal said he wants to give the new leader "the opportunity to get their feet on the ground."

As to the expansion of the agency - he once called for more members of the panel's board to be appointed by the judicial branch - he sounded a more skeptical note.

"The expansion of the board members does not necessarily in and of itself speed up the work. Some might argue that it would slow them down. Because most of the work is done by the staff."


Rumors are swirling that state Rep. Jay Roberts could be leaving his post for a gig as the Georgia Department of Transportation's new planning director.

Roberts is the House Transportation Committee chairman who championed the plan to raise nearly $1 billion in new revenue for infrastructure projects. And the planning director gig is newly vacated by Russell McMurry, promoted this year to be the department's leader.

Gov. Nathan Deal said he'll soon announce the new planning director. As to whether it would be a certain Republican politician from Ocilla, he was mum.

"I'm not going to say who it might be," he said.


Secretary of State Brian Kemp has set the election to fill an open House seat vacated by Tyrone Brooks for June 16 and a runoff for July 14.

The seat was left empty after Brooks resigned this month shortly before pleading guilty to fraud charges in federal court.

Qualifying spans between April 28 and April 30 and voters who aren't registered must do so by May 18 if they want to cast a ballot in this special election.


A high-profile Baptist preacher won't be honored at a Jewish National Fund event in Atlanta after criticism from some members of the local Jewish community about his stance on gay rights.

From our colleague Shelia Poole's story:

Pastor Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta and a best-selling author, has pulled out of an event during which he was to be honored.

According to Jewish National Fund spokesman Adam Brill, Stanley informed the Jewish National Fund ” that because of his deep love for Israel, and his reluctance to be a point of controversy and conflict within the Jewish community, he has declined to be recognized at the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast in Atlanta, on Thursday.”

Stanley's decision was praised by several Jewish groups, including the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, which pronounced itself "pleased" with the news.


In this week's most important 2016 news, Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame announced he is running for president. Rolling Stone has the announcement video, which -- as one might expect -- contains some salty language.

Flame does not say which party he's running in, but backs liberal initiatives such as legalizing marijuana and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. His platform also includes a ban on "dogs coming into restaurants" and people with feet larger than size 13 walking in public.

Flame had a brief cameo during last year's Georgia U.S. Senate race when it came out that he and Republican David Perdue were Facetime buddies. The rapper also was spotted at Perdue's Election Night victory party.

And yet, in his video, Flame signaled he does not want much to do with the Senate: "F--- the Congress. What are we thinking about? I am Congress. I'm president."

To be fair, that's probably what most presidents believe but don't say aloud.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.