Judge's Striking of Gay Marriage Ban Pleases Husband, Wife Who Filed Suit; They Said They Sued Because of a Belief in Equal Rights and the Right to Vote as You Want

Article excerpt

Byline: BLAKE AUED

ATHENS -- Since filing a lawsuit two years ago challenging an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that banned gay marriage, Chuck and Judi O'Kelley just went about their business.

Chuck is a law professor at the University of Georgia, and Judi, also a lawyer, mostly stays in their Athens home, raising 4-year-old twins.

Tuesday night, they each got congratulatory telephone calls. A Fulton County Superior Court judge had overturned the amendment, siding with the O'Kelleys and the five other plaintiffs who filed the suit, including a Baptist church, a rabbi, a minister and two state legislators.

"We were really surprised and pleased," Chuck O'Kelley said Wednesday. "We were beginning to wonder if it'd ever be decided, it had taken so long."

The O'Kelleys have been involved in gay rights for years. Judi O'Kelley served as president of Northeast Georgians Against Discrimination, now known as Just Equal, a group that went door-to-door before a 2004 referendum to educate voters about the amendment, and since has lobbied Athens-Clarke County to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination and benefits policies.

It galled her to know that, if she happened to be a lesbian, her partner and children wouldn't receive the same treatment or benefits as they do as part of a traditional household, Judi O'Kelley said.

"Family is family," she said.

The lawsuit, in part, argued that the O'Kelleys' work canvassing Athens neighborhoods before the referendum introduced them to voters who either were confused by the language or supported civil unions, but not gay marriage.

"Both of these plaintiffs are aware of voters who support civil unions but oppose marriage for same-sex couples, and who thus were unable to cast a vote on Amendment One consistent with their beliefs," attorneys argued.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance Russell ruled the referendum's wording violated the state's single-subject rule for ballot issues.

Seventy-six percent of Georgia voters approved the amendment, but only 52 percent in Clarke County, lowest of any county in the state. …