86 percent of vote
Georgia voters resoundingly approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage Tuesday, but opponents said they plan to challenge the measure in court as soon as the election results are certified.
Georgia was one of 11 states with such constitutional amendments on the ballot. Most of the measures appeared likely to pass, said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on Tuesday night.
"It's wrong to put a fundamental human right up for a popular vote, " Foreman said. "We're confident in the end, the Bill of Rights will secure for gay people the freedom to marry."
Diane Pardoe, of Lawrenceville, was one of thousands of Georgians who voted in favor of the amendment and rejoiced at its passage. She said she felt strongly about the issue and had brought it up in prayer groups and other Christian groups.
"The whole idea of marriage is a pretty core value, " Pardoe said. "I'm really happy, praise God."
In Atlanta, about 400 opponents of the gay marriage ban gathered at the Red Chair restaurant to watch the election returns under balloons and banners reading , "The Big Gay Election Party."
"I'm not surprised that we lost, " said Greg Millett of Atlanta. "I am surprised at how decisive it was. This will be decided eventually by the courts. It was still important to fight it, though, and get some kind of dialogue going about what the issues are."
Lambda Legal, an organization that represents gays and lesbians, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and the law firm of Alston and Bird issued a joint announcement Tuesday evening saying they will file a lawsuit on behalf of concerned voters to strike down the amendment.
"We very much believe this amendment suffers from the constitutional infirmities which we pointed out in our earlier lawsuit, " said Jack Senterfitt, a Lambda Legal attorney.
In September, the gay marriage fight landed in Fulton County Superior Court when the three groups challenged the amendment. The suit focused on the language of the referendum, not whether gay couples should be allowed to marry. The attorneys argued the amendment violates the state constitution's single-subject rule by pertaining to multiple issues. In addition to marriage, the amendment would affect civil unions and the ability of Georgia's courts to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, the attorneys argued.
The lawyers also contended that the wording of the ballot question is misleading, because it asks only about marriage and not the other issues the amendment would affect.
Superior Court Judge Constance Russell ruled that the court could not stop the vote. The state Supreme Court, which heard the case on appeal, upheld that ruling last week. "The judiciary does not have any jurisdiction to block further consideration of the proposed amendment at this formative stage in the legislative process, " Justice George Carley wrote for the majority. However, the amendment "can be challenged in the event it is 'enacted' by virtue of approval of the voters, " he added.
State Sen. Mike Crotts (R-Conyers), the sponsor of the amendment, said that he was elated by the election results Tuesday. "This is something I have fought for quite some time now to ensure the voice of the people is louder than that of the court, " Crotts said. "It's a good day for the people of Georgia including the gay community, because they had the opportunity to vote."
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), campaign chairwoman of Georgians Against Discrimination, a group opposing the amendment, was clearly disappointed. Drenner, the state's only openly gay legislator, led the fight against the Senate Resolution 595, the proposed amendment, during the 2004 Legislative session.
"We are disappointed but we are not defeated, " Drenner said. "While deception won out today, it will not always. Where exclusion and misrepresentation carried this vote, it is only temporary."
Last month, a Louisiana judge tossed out a constitutional amendment that the state's voters had approved to ban same-sex marriage. On Sept. 18, Louisiana voters had overwhelmingly endorsed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District Court declared the amendment invalid because it pertains not only to same-sex marriage but also to civil unions.
Sadie Fields, state chairwoman of the Christian Coalition, predicted Tuesday evening that amendment opponents would mount a post-election challenge because "they cannot win at the polls." She had a key role in mustering legislative support for the proposed amendment.
Fields, who spent the evening at the the victory party of U.S. Sen.-elect Johnny Isakson, said she was not surprised by the large turnout in favor of passage.
"I have said all along that the issue crossed all demographics... The voice of reason in Georgia has prevailed."