Democrat: I won’t defend Ga. gay marriage ban

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The Democrat challenging Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens' re-election bid says he supports same-sex marriage and would drop the state's defense of its gay marriage ban that Olens filed on Monday.

The statement from attorney and former prosecutor Greg Hecht came two days after Olens filed a 45-page defense of the state's gay marriage ban in response to a federal lawsuit challenging it. Olens struck a surprisingly respectful tone in the brief, but still argued that gay marriage is not a “fundamental right.”

“At their core, Plaintiffs’ claims are about where the law is headed, not about where it is now. Plaintiffs may well be right that our nation is headed for a new national equilibrium on same-sex marriage,” Olens wrote. “But judicially imposing such a result now would merely wrest a potentially unifying popular victory from the hands of supporters and replace it instead with the stale conformity of compulsion.”

Hecht said that's not good enough, according to a statement posted to his website.

“It is time we had an Attorney General who will protect all citizens’ freedom to share in the right to marry and pursue happiness, as opposed to an Attorney General that makes decisions based on political calculation,” Hecht said.

In a separate section on Hecht's site, Freedom for All Georgians, he fully backs the “freedom to marry” – a catchphrase used by supporters of gay marriage – and criticizes Olens for spending public dollars to defend the marriage ban in Georgia.

Georgia’s top law enforcement official has an obligation to protect freedom and oppose discrimination— but also to be a careful steward of Georgia’s precious tax dollars. It would be morally, legally and fiscally irresponsible to press a case that, based on rulings across the country, would almost certainly be overturned, at a cost to Georgia’s taxpayers and when our resources should be invested in our schools and public safety.

The notion that an executive is not obligated to defend a law that he or she considers a hindrance to basic freedoms, protection of discrimination or unconstitutional is not radical, and it is certainly nothing new. 

Both statements from the Hecht campaign hint that, if elected, he would drop the state's defense of the marriage ban. But they don't explicitly state that. On Wednesday when asked if Hecht would drop the state's gay marriage defense as attorney general, campaign spokesperson Doug Heyl offered a quick, clear response to Project Q: “Yes.”

Olens' decision to defend the marriage ban also came under fire from the Libertarian Party of Georgia, which said Tuesday that his “defense of this ban is indefensible.”

On Monday July 21, 2014 Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens filed a brief (motion to dismiss) in defense of Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriages. The ban was enacted by a public vote in 2004 that amended the state’s constitution. The class action lawsuit was filed in April by Lambda Legal attorneys Beth Littrell and Tara Borelli on behalf of a group of plaintiffs claiming their rights have been violated

“Libertarians stand with the plaintiffs in this case and support the repeal of the ban on same-sex marriages”, said Doug Craig – Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia.

“We believe marriage is a fundamental right retained by the people and that this right extends to same-sex couples. Our state constitution should be limited to restricting the powers of government – not the rights of the citizens. Attorney General Sam Olens’ defense of this ban is indefensible”, said Craig.

According to Craig, the popularity of any issue should never be used to limit or prohibit rights of a minority. Equal protection under the law is one of most basic rights we have as citizens. Government should not be involved in personal relationships.

The Libertarian Party supports the rights of individuals to live their lives as they see fit without government interference.

The Libertarians did not field a candidate in the attorney general race.

The full statement from Hecht:

Sam Olens is the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Georgia but over and over again he is derelict in his duties to protect Georgians. Olens has repeatedly refused to investigate corruption at the highest levels of state government but now is spending tax dollars to sanction discrimination by defending an unconstitutional law that prevents marriage equality in Georgia.

“Whether defending corruption instead of investigating it or defending discrimination Sam Olens continues to refuse to act as Georgia’s chief law enforcement officer,” Greg Hecht said.

Already, in states like Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Idaho, Texas and Pennsylvania, federal judges have ruled that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional and have overturned them. Similarly, Tennessee and Kentucky are among the states where judges have ruled that same-sex marriages from other states should now be recognized.

As a result, attorneys general from a growing list of states have declared that they are unwilling to spend public funds defending laws that they know cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge. Attorneys general in Virginia, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Nevada and Kentucky have refused to defend marriage equality bans.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples should receive the same benefits as any other couple.

Based on these and other cases, it is abundantly clear that the overwhelming body of recent legal precedent points the way for courts at all levels to continue to rule that prohibitions on marriage equality are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

“It is time we had an Attorney General who will protect all citizens’ freedom to share in the right to marry and pursue happiness, as opposed to an Attorney General that makes decisions based on political calculation,” Hecht said.

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