On Tuesday, Lambda Legal, on behalf of their clients, filed a lawsuit challenging Georgia's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The case was filed on behalf of a widow and three same-sex couples: Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville, Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro, Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Atlanta, and Jennifer Sisson of Decatur.
In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal, joined by pro bono co-counsel from Bryan Cave and White & Case, argues that Georgia's marriage ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and "sends a message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that different-sex couples and their families are able to enjoy through marriage."
"Georgia joins a growing chorus of Southern voices clamoring for marriage equality. The freedom to marry is indeed coming south. We do not want a country divided by unfairness and discrimination. Same-sex couples are in loving, committed relationships in every region of our nation and should be treated the same way, whether they live in the Empire State or the Peach State," said Beth Littrell, senior attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office.
Lead plaintiffs Inniss, 39, and Stroman, 41, have been together for 13 years. Their son, Jonathan, is 9.
"Georgia is our home. Our family is here, our business is here, and our community here is a great support for us," said Inniss, a veterinarian and pet resort owner. "Shelton and I have been together for 13 years. We own a home together, we own a business together, and we are raising our son, Jonathan, together. We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for our family but marriage is the only way to ensure that we are treated as the family that we are. We need the protection that marriage affords."
Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas, of Atlanta, are the proud dads of a son and a daughter.
They said they decided to challenge Georgia's same-sex marriage ban to protect their children.
"We live our lives very privately and for us to move into the spotlight for this purpose took a lot of thought and deliberation," said Bishop.
The couple met eight years ago.
Bishop is an attorney and Thomas is a real estate agent.
While their friends have traveled to other states to tie the knot legally, Bishop and Thomas are holding off.
"We are proud Georgians, this is where we want to live. We want to have protection under the law of our family and our relationship here in our home state. That is absolutely important to us," said Bishop.
Rayshawn Chandler, 29, and Avery Chandler, 30, are Atlanta Police Department officers who have been together for almost three years.
Jennifer Sisson, 34, and Pamela Drenner, who died on March 1 at age 49, were married in New York in 2013. Despite being legally married, the State of Georgia has refused to list Sisson as Drenner's wife on the death certificate.
"Every day that same-sex couples in Georgia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that their families are not worthy of dignity and respect," said Tara Borelli, senior attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. "Georgians believe in the Southern values of love, honor and family, but as long as the State of Georgia continues to bar same-sex couples from marriage, it devalues these families and reinforces unfairness and discrimination."
CBS46 is following this developing story and will have more information and interviews throughout the day.
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Tuesday, April 20 2010 11:21 PM EDT2010-04-21 03:21:00 GMT
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