Atlanta law recognizing domestic partners sparks suit Foes cite costs, conflict with Ga. law on marriage HTC

September 15, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- Just days after Mayor Bill Campbell signed into law a measure to grant health and other benefits to domestic partners of unmarried city employees, opponents filed a lawsuit challenging it as fiscally irresponsible and at odds with the state's recently passed ban on same-sex marriage.

The Atlanta ordinance was the second effort in the past three years by people who support the extension of some benefits to the partners of city workers in nontraditional but committed unions.

A similar measure, passed in 1993, never went into effect and was overturned in part by the Georgia Supreme Court last year.

The new version seeks to overcome the court's objections to the earlier measure's classification of domestic partners as "a family," a classification that the court said could be granted only by the state legislature.

But the new ordinance was challenged this month by some groups that successfully fought the 1993 measure; they maintained that the city had failed to solve the legal problems cited by the court.

"This is just one more attempt by the city of Atlanta to spend the taxpayers' money irresponsibly," said Robert Proctor, a lawyer representing Lamar Morgan, a securities executive.

Morgan and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative public policy group, filed suit against the measure in Fulton County Superior Court.

"Furthermore," Proctor said, "this ordinance is clearly oriented toward homosexual unions, and the state of Georgia has recently gone on record that they are not interested in encouraging homosexual marriage."

Both houses of the U.S. Congress have passed identical legislation that would allow states not only to bar same-sex marriage but to refuse to recognize such unions allowed by other states.

President Clinton has said he would sign the measure.

The controversy over the Atlanta measure also comes as the major challenge of legal barriers to same-sex and nontraditional unions is heading to trial in a Hawaii courtroom.

According to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a group concerned with the civil rights of homosexuals, three states and 52 municipalities, school districts or governmental entities have passed measures giving legal recognition to domestic partners of public employees and extending some benefits.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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