This week, I had the honor to speaking at the dinner of the Atlanta IP Inn of Court. I was particularly fortunate to spend time with Michael Bishop (shown here in the blue shirt and beard), one of George Washington Law School’s graduates and the incoming president of the Inn. In the course of our conversations, Michael told me about a lawsuit where he is actually a party as opposed to counsel. He and his partner, Shane, are suing for the basic right to marry — a right that is not only forbidden in Georgia but the state constitution goes further to ban the recognition of marriages from other states. The lawsuit is enormously important and well pleaded, as the complaint below attests. It could prove to be an excellent vehicle to again seek Supreme Court review, though that will take a while since it was just filed.
The well-written complaint states:
The history of the United States has been defined by the ability of each succeeding generation to recognize that social, economic, political, religious, and historical norms do not define our unalienable rights. As adopted in 1789, the Constitution of the United States permitted slavery, and allowed states to deny the majority of our adult citizens the right to vote, to criminalize inter-racial marriage, and to criminalize private consensual intimacy. But in time, the American ideal of equality and liberty demanded that our government move past cultural and majority oppressions, however long-standing, in order to secure and fulfill the individual rights of all citizens.
Some 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex couples to marry in what is becoming a powerful trend. Recently, courts in Utah, Texas, and Tennessee struck down laws barring such marriages.
On April 10th, Michael and his partner Shane Thomas walked into Fulton County Probate Court and stood stand. They asked to be married. They were refused and they then filed with others this important lawsuit. Their story is inspiring but not unlike so many that we have seen around the country as loving couples are denied this basic right. Thomas, 44, and Bishop, 50, are both born and raised in the South and both were raised Baptist. They have two wonderful kids: Thomas, 4; and his little sister Mariella, 3, who call them “Daddy” and “Big Daddy.” What they do not have is a marriage license or any of the rights or privileges that come from that status.
This is a particularly well crafted complaint with a good variety of parties, including a widow, that have standing to raise this challenge.
We will be following it in the weeks to come. I was very proud to see that Michael was one of our graduates and will now be at the forefront of a great civil rights battle. Thomas and Mariella will some day read about this struggle and I believe look back with tremendous pride that their fathers fought equal rights at this critical time in our history.
I am also please to see that Bryan Cave (a firm with which I have had a long relationship in pro bono litigation) is counsel of record in the case. On the complaint from Bryan Cave are William V. Custer, Jennifer D. Odom, Jennifer B. Dempsey, Luke Lanntta, and Douglas E. Winter. Also on the complaint are attorneys from Lambda Legal Defense Fund and White & Case.