Atlanta Bar Association comes out in support of gay marriage

Atlanta was also specifically asked because Georgia has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, said Lynn Roberson, president of the Atlanta Bar. While the Atlanta Bar was not asked to sign on to a brief in the Defense of Marriage case also before the Supreme Court, Roberson said personally she feels both cases address the issues of non discrimination and that it is unconstitutional for the government to discriminate any group of people.

“The people filing the amicus brief [in Prop 8 case] were focusing on bar groups but wanted non-specialty groups and especially general membership bars from states that have banned gay marriage,” Roberson said. “Frankly, if we had not been contacted, we would not have done it. But once we were contacted we had to make a decision.”

The Atlanta Bar Association is the largest voluntary bar association in the southeast with a membership of more than 6,300 from the 12 counties of metro Atlanta: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale.

The brief signed by the Atlanta Bar Association states in part,

“This brief explains the harm inflicted on gay men and lesbians as a result of Proposition 8’s pernicious classification. Because Proposition 8 excludes them from marriage, gay men and lesbians and their families are stigmatized, deprived of benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts, and exposed to increased discrimination. These effects are repugnant to the Constitution’s equality guarantee and are in no way mitigated by access to the separate and inherently inferior mechanism of domestic partnership. Amici urge this Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any legitimate justification.”

The Atlanta Bar was asked in late January to participate and voted on the issue in early February. The deadline to sign on was Feb. 14, Roberson explained. The brief with some 50 other bar organizations is set to be filed Thursday, Feb. 28.

A flurry of amicus briefs are being filed this week as deadlines approach to file in the Prop 8 case on Feb. 28. The deadline to file an amicus brief in the DOMA case is Friday, March 1. The Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments on Prop 8 on March 26 and then on DOMA on March 27.

Georgia Equality joined with a broad coalition including Utah Pride, Campaign for Southern Equality and 25 other organizations in filing amicus briefs named the “Red State” brief in both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases before the Supreme Court.

“Georgia Equality is proud to stand with our colleagues from around the south and mid-west in urging that the Supreme Court consider the lack of political power held by gay citizens in states such as Georgia,” said Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham in a statement.

“We are honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners in bringing before the highest court in the land the perspective of LGBT Georgians who live with dignity without basic legal rights and protections,” he added.

Roberson of the Atlanta Bar Association said to her and to the board of directors of the bar, voting to sign on to a brief against Prop 8 was about equality for all people.

“My view as president of a non-specialty bar is not to take positions politically one way or the other because we have members on both sides,” she said.

“But I didn’t see this as a political issue but a civil rights issue. I didn’t feel when we were asked that we could refuse to not step forward. It’s simple — yes, you support equal rights for all or no you don’t. It’s a question of whether you do or do you not feel the government can discriminate,” she said.

The Atlanta Bar Association board of directors has 17 members. Roberson said when she brought the measure to the board she wanted to ensure a strong consensus from the board. She also wanted people to be aware there may be blowback from bar members who oppose taking such a stance.

“We all agreed though. Many years ago the Atlanta bar did not accept people from different races, a shameful time in our history,” she said.

“We didn’t want to be on wrong side of history again. We are not being courageous. What we are is not being cowardly.”