Press

Court Ruling Highlights Need For Civil Rights Laws

Date: 
June 02, 1997

A federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled on Friday, May 30, 1997 that a lesbian's civil rights were not violated when the state's attorney general rescinded a job offer after he discovered that she was a lesbian planning to "marry" another woman. The case and the ruling vividly underscore the critical need to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation at both the state and national level.

In the case of Shahar v. Bowers, the Eleventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals ruled in favor of outgoing Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers. Bowers, well-known for defending the state's anti-sodomy law in 1986 in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick, had offered a staff attorney position to Robin Shahar in 1991. Later, Shahar mentioned in conversations that she was planning to marry her partner in a religious ceremony.

Upon learning of Shahar's intentions, Bowers then rescinded the job offer on the grounds that her employment would jeopardize the department's ability to uphold the law. Shahar sued and a three-judge panel of the circuit court ruled in her favor. However, it was later decided that the full court should hear the case. It was the decision of the full court that came down last Friday.

The Appeals Court ruled that because of the Hardwick case, Bowers was within his rights to consider that the public might be confused if he hired someone who was "married" to someone of the same-gender. The court further said that Bowers' interest in promoting the efficiency of his agency outweighed Shahar's personal interests. One day after the court's ruling Bowers stepped down as Georgia attorney-general in order to run in next year's gubernatorial race. Robin Shahar must now decide whether to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The following statement is attributable to National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel:

"Nearly one out of four people in our country live where discrimination based on sexual orientation is outlawed. Unfortunately, Robin Shahar lives in a state that bans same-gender marriage, bans sodomy and offers no legislative remedies against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court's ruling strongly highlights the necessity of our communities to work hard to pass civil rights laws in our own states and in the nation's capital. The step backward taken by the Eleventh Circuit will not stop our momentum. Our communities will move forward to a place where there is freedom, dignity and social justice for all."

Gay rights and civil liberties groups in Georgia are currently considering their next steps in the wake of last Friday's decision. To find out about what actions gay rights groups might take, contact Cindy Abel or Larry Pellegrini at Georgia Equality Project. You can call them at 404-284-1347 or email them at lobbywatch@aol.com.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.