One of the more recent social issues confronting U.S. courts and legislators is the civil rights debate for individuals who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT). Despite the acknowledgment of same-sex marriages in Obergefell v. Hodges (decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015), individuals identifying as LGBT face unique challenges, ranging from child custody and adoption disputes to recognition of a same-sex partner as a beneficiary for the purposes of health insurance or estate planning.
The ACLU of Georgia, through legislative efforts and litigation, works as an advocate for LGBT rights.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, 1991-1992
General Description: Employment
Summary of the Issues Involved: In 1991, Cracker Barrel distributed a memorandum to several of its stores informing them that the employment of individuals identifying as homosexual was inconsistent with its values. Following this policy, managers at many of Cracker Barrel’s restaurants fired employees without warning or severance pay. Though there was much public outcry regarding this incident, no claim disputing the policy was ever filed in court. In response to this incident, some of Cracker Barrel’s shareholders proposed new policies requiring the company’s Board of Directors to reflect the diverse genders, races, and sexual orientations of the shareholders. Cracker Barrel argued it should not have to include such a proposal in its proxy materials and sought several “no action” letters from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in support of its position.
Hadaway v. Department of Family and Child Services, circa 2006-2008
General Description: Adoption
Summary of the Issues Involved: Hadaway sought to obtain custody of a child entrusted to her care by the child’s biological mother. The superior court initially granted custody to Hadaway, but later denied the adoption petition, noting it was not in the best interest of the child. The court also found fault with Hadaway’s failure to disclose her cohabitation with a female partner in the adoption petition. Despite the court’s order, the child’s biological mother asked Hadaway to retain custody. The court found Hadaway and her attorney in contempt for failure to abide by its order denying Hadaway custody. Hadaway and her attorney filed this action to contest the contempt proceedings. The Georgia Court of Appeals found in favor of the plaintiff, holding neither she nor her attorney were in contempt of court.
O’Kelley v. Cox, circa 2005-2006
General Description: Same Sex Marriage Ballot
Summary of the Issues Involved: The Georgia General Assembly sought to include a proposed amendment to the Georgia Constitution on the general election ballot. The proposed amendment provided that Georgia would only recognize the union between a man and woman as a marriage. Plaintiffs filed this case seeking to prohibit the inclusion of the amendment on the ballot. The Georgia Supreme Court found for the defendants, holding inclusion of the amendment did not violate constitutional requirements.
PRIDE v. White County School District, 2006-2007
General Description: Student Organizations
Summary of the Issues Involved: Plaintiffs, a group of students who were victims or friends of victims of anti-gay harassment, attempted to form a student support group at school. The White County School District prohibited the group from forming. The ACLU of Georgia filed this lawsuit on behalf of the students, claiming the White County School District violated the Equal Access Act by permitting some student groups to form and utilize school facilities, but not this one. The court sided with the students, finding White County in violation of the act. To avoid a costly appeal, the parties reached a settlement agreement in which White County agreed to adopt policies to foster a more inclusive environment for LGBT students.
Vawter v. Vawter, circa 2000
General Description: Child Custody
Summary of the Issues Involved: The plaintiff’s divorce and custody agreement, under which she was awarded full custody of the children born to her by her ex-husband, stipulated that she was not to expose the children to cohabitation. The plaintiff later entered into a relationship with another woman, and her ex-husband filed an action seeking to have her jailed for violation of the agreement. The ACLU of Georgia filed an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court on the plaintiff’s behalf. The court declined to hear the plaintiff’s case.