Same-sex couples, widow sue for marriage equality in Georgia

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The plaintiffs in the Georgia case filed by Lambda Legal: - PHOTO: LL

A widow and three same-sex couples represented by Lambda Legal are challenging Georgia’s marriage ban in U.S. District Court.  The case, announced on April 22, was filed on behalf of Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville, Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro, Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Atlanta and also Jennifer Sisson of Decatur.

"Georgia is our home. Our family is here, our business is here, and our community here is a great support for us,” said Christopher Inniss, a veterinarian and pet resort owner. “Shelton and I have been together for 13 years. We own a home together, we own a business together, and we are raising our son, Jonathan, together. We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for our family but marriage is the only way to ensure that we are treated as the family that we are. We need the protection that marriage affords.”

Lead plaintiffs Inniss, 39, and his partner Shelton Stroman, 41, have been together for 13 years. Their son, Jonathan, is 9. 

“Every day that same-sex couples in Georgia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that their families are not worthy of dignity and respect," said Tara Borelli, Lambda Legal senior attorney. "Georgians believe in the Southern values of love, honor and family, but as long as the state of Georgia continues to bar same-sex couples from marriage, it devalues these families and reinforces unfairness and discrimination."

Joining Inniss and Stroman as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are:

• Rayshawn Chandler, 29, and Avery Chandler, 30, Atlanta Police Department police officers who have been together for almost three years.

• Michael Bishop, 50, and Shane Thomas, 44, together for seven years and the parents of  two children.

• Jennifer Sisson, 34, whose wife, Pamela Drenner, died on March 1 at age 49. The women were married in New York in 2013. Despite being legally married, the state of Georgia has refused to list Sisson as Drenner's wife on the death certificate.

In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal argues that Georgia’s marriage ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and sends a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men and their children are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections and support that different-sex couples and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.

There are more than 60 marriage equality lawsuits pending in the United States.

Same-sex couples can marry in the District of Columbia and 17 states.