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Judge Strikes Down Ga. Ban on Gay Marriage

May 16, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) _ A judge has struck down Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriages, saying a measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004 violated a provision of the state constitution that limits ballot questions to a single subject.

The ruling by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell had been eagerly awaited by gay-rights supporters who filed the court challenge in November 2004, soon after the constitutional ban was approved.

Russell said the state’s voters must first decide whether same-sex relationships should have any legal status before they can be asked to decide whether same-sex marriages should be banned.

``People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place _ although not marriage,″ she wrote. ``The single-subject rule protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote.″

Russell said ``procedural safeguards such as the single-subject rule rarely enjoy public support.″

``But ultimately it is those safeguards that preserve our liberties, because they ensure that the actions of government are constrained by the rule of law,″ the judge wrote.

Jack Senterfitt, who challenged the amendment on behalf of gay rights organization Lambda Legal, said the ruling ``protects the right of voters to make independent decisions on each independent issue.″

Gov. Sonny Perdue said the decision ran counter to the voice of Georgia voters in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

``The people of Georgia knew exactly what they were doing when an overwhelming 76 percent voted in support of this constitutional amendment,″ he said. ``It is sad that a single judge has chosen to reverse this decision.″

Perdue said the state is considering appealing the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.

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