WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014- On Wednesday, patent attorney Art Gardner–one of the seven Republicans gunning for Georgia’s open Senate seat–announced his support for a new class action suit seeking to overturn the Peach State’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The suit, filed Tuesday by a gay rights group called Lambda Legal, challenges the state registrar and several key legal figures in local courts over the marriage ban. Voters locked in the constitutional interdict on same-sex marriage ten years ago, and Georgia’s Supreme Court upheld the legality of the ballot question amid activist fire in 2006. In the eyes of the law, only marriages between a man and a woman warrant the recognition of Georgia courts. Gay marriages performed in any other state don’t hold legal water, a fact that has become increasingly salient as more states continue to approve same-sex marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to dismantle the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I support marriage equality and I call on liberty-minded Republicans to join me in supporting this suit,” Gardner wrote in a press release. “I also call on Attorney General Sam Olens, a fellow Republican, to not fight the suit, but to allow the plaintiffs to obtain a favorable judgment directly.”
So far, Olens seems to be ignoring such calls. His spokeswoman stated on Tuesday: “The Attorney General will fulfill his constitutional obligation to defend Georgia law.” Olens will defend the ban in federal court in his capacity as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
Gardner’s robust support of marriage equality stretches back over twenty years, when he implemented policies in a local classic car club to allow gays to join freely. A softer stance on social issues has characterized the most unique campaign on the primary trail this spring, clashing with the ultra-conservative ideals of most of the other six candidates’ platforms. The three congressmen vying for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat—Reps. Jack Kingston, Phil Gingrey, and Paul Broun—business titan David Perdue, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel have each professed their support for traditional family values in the marriage arena, playing on the strong Christian dynamic at work in the state electorate.
Only three sitting Republican senators openly support gay marriage, although none will appear on a ballot this fall. Gardner stands among four current Senate candidates who either publically back marriage equality or have flirted with the idea of doing so, but few (if any) seem likely to survive their respective primaries. Despite a measurable change of heart within the GOP’s base, elected officials and those who hope to be have seemed slow to get the hint.
“I am a fiscal conservative, what some might call a budget hawk, and throwing hard-earned tax dollars away on fighting this suit is unwise,” Gardner said. “Moreover, it is also time for the State of Georgia and the Republican Party to get ahead of this issue. We (the GOP) are the original civil rights party, the Party of Lincoln, the party that strongly supported the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. This suit presents our party with a golden opportunity to steer a bold new course, one that will set the State of Georgia and the Georgia GOP on an upward path. I call on my fellow members of the GOP to join me in supporting the suit and urging the Attorney General to not fight it.”
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll conducted last year found that nearly half of all Georgians now support same-sex marriage, a far cry from the negative turn-out that swept the traditional marriage initiative into law a decade ago. Today, the headline-grabbing lawsuit may yet have a chance to gain traction in the red state’s legal system. As Jay Bookman recently mused in the AJC: “This is still Georgia, but it’s not 2004.”