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Georgia court: Civil unions not marriage
Posted By Mandi Steele On 07/20/2002 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
The Georgia Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous decision to uphold a Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling that a Vermont civil union between same-sex couples is not equivalent to marriage.
According to Liberty Counsel, the law firm that defended the case, it is the first case in the country to define the Vermont civil union as not only unrecognizable as marriage, but also not applicable outside the State of Vermont.
The court this week rejected the appellant’s claim that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which states that one state will not be compelled to acknowledge another state’s homosexual marriage or union, is unconstitutional. Instead, the court upheld the state’s definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, as is outlined in Georgia’s Defense of Marriage Act.
In Burns v. Burns, Susan Burns filed papers in court after a disagreement with her former husband on the particulars of a Consent Decree Visitation Agreement. The agreement provided that neither party could have their children stay overnight if either one co-habited with an adult to whom he or she was not married. Darian Burns has custody of his three children and Susan maintains visitation rights.
“Susan Burns began having homosexual affairs during the marriage, so the marriage split up,” explained Mathew Staver, Darian’s attorney and president of Liberty Counsel. Both parties agreed to the Consent Decree shortly after the divorce.
Darian thought the decree necessary, says Staver, because “during the visitation time it happened where the children observed different kinds of lesbian sexual activity.”
Three days after Vermont enacted its civil-union law, Susan and her lesbian partner traveled to Vermont and obtained a civil union. They then returned to Georgia to live. Susan argued that she now is legally married and thus she has the right to visit her children in the company of her homosexual companion.
“Our argument was that a Vermont civil union is not marriage, and therefore it couldn’t be recognized as marriage,” Staver told WND.
“The civil union law itself says a civil union is not civil marriage and that civil marriage is still limited to a man and a woman.”
Judge M. Yvette Miller wrote for the Georgia Court of Appeals that Susan’s position “has a flawed premise; she and her female companion were not married in Vermont but instead entered into a ‘civil union.’”
She went on to state that “even if Vermont had purported to legalize same-sex marriages, such would not be recognized in Georgia, the place where the Consent Decree was ordered and agreed to by both parties. …”
“Marriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state,” Miller wrote, citing the Georgia Defense of Marriage Act.
Through a Vermont civil union, a homosexual couple in Vermont has almost every benefit a heterosexual married couple has except the marriage title. Vermont is the only state so far with a civil-union law that acknowledges an actual legal partnership between homosexuals.
If the Georgia Supreme Court had decided to recognize Susan’s civil union as a legal marriage, Staver says, “then the other 49 states could potentially have fallen like dominos,” and every state might have decided to validate same-sex marriages. Now, with statistics showing that 83.5 percent of homosexual couples who obtained a civil union in Vermont live out-of-state, their union is basically “not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.
“It was a major setback for the pro-homosexual marriage organizations,” Staver noted.
The judges on the Court of Appeals also rejected a letter from Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for homosexuals’ legal rights, asking the judges to rewrite their opinion on the case.
Staver says that since the Court of Appeals’ decision, Susan has voluntarily chosen not to visit her children as a “symbolic protest” of the state’s refusal to acknowledge her lesbian union.
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