Meet the Families Fighting for Marriage in Georgia

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April 22, 2014
Lead Plaintiffs Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman

Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on behalf of three same-sex couples and the surviving spouse of one additional same-sex couple challenging Georgia’s discriminatory marriage ban. Here are their stories:

Love Unites US: Georgia

Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman
Christopher Inniss, 39, and Shelton Stroman, 42, of Snellville, have been together for 13 years, raising their son Jonathan, 9. Chris is a veterinarian and Shelton manages the Snellville Pet Resort, a business the couple owns together. Jonathan is old enough to understand that his parents aren’t married but he struggles to understand why.  Although they tell him that they are still a family even if the State doesn’t allow them to marry, Jonathan wants them to be married like many of his other friends’ parents. Chris and Shelton find it painful that they cannot fulfill Jonathan’s wish. They also need the protections and dignity that only marriage provides.

RayShawn Chandler and Avery ChandlerRayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler
Rayshawn Chandler, 29, and Avery Chandler, 30, of Jonesboro were married in Connecticut last June. Both Rayshawn and Avery work as police officers for the Atlanta Police Department. Avery is in the Army Reserves. It’s important for the couple to have their marriage recognized by the state of Georgia because they are planning to have children. The State’s refusal to recognize their marriage means that Avery may not be recognized on the birth certificate as the other parent of their children.  It also means that they are not recognized as spouses to each other should either of them get killed in the line of duty.

Michael Bishop and Shane ThomasMichael Bishop and Shane Thomas
Michael Bishop, 50, and Shane Thomas, 44, of Atlanta have been in a loving committed relationship for over seven years. Michael is a lawyer at AT&T and Shane is a realtor, but their lives revolve around their two children Thomas, 5, and Mariella, 3.  Just like other parents, their lives are filled with ordinary things like getting their little ones off to school, taking them to birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, or visiting Piedmont Park and the Botanical Gardens. They wish to marry not just to express their devotion to each other, but they also do not want their children to carry a sense of uncertainty or inferiority because they know their parents aren’t allowed to be married, like other parents.

Jennifer SissonJennifer Sisson
Jennifer Sisson, 34, of Decatur, recently lost the love of her life when her spouse, Pamela Drenner, 49, passed away on March 1, 2014 after a long battle with ovarian cancer.  The couple were married on Valentine’s Day in 2013 in New York at City Hall, after tests showed that Pam’s cancer treatment appeared to have been successful. While they knew Georgia would not recognize the marriage, they wanted to memorialize the commitment and love they felt for each other. When Jennifer thinks about her marriage to Pam, and how to honor her memory, she wants to shout their love from the rooftops. Instead, just after the final hours of Pam’s life, the State erased their marriage by refusing to recognize Pam as married, or Jennifer as her spouse, on the final document memorializing Pam’s existence – her death certificate.

Elizabeth and Krista Wurz
Beth Wurz, 41, and Krista Wurz, 39, were married in October 2010 in New Hampshire and are raising theirseven children, including five placed with them through the foster care system, in their Brunswick home.  Beth is an English professor at College of Coastal Georgia and Krista, an Air Force veteran, is a special education teacher. Since their marriage is not recognized in Georgia, Krista is denied health coverage through Beth’s job, as are some of their children. Because of the marriage ban, they also have been denied the ability to adopt their children jointly. They are always worried about traveling with the children or caring for them in emergencies since they are not both recognized as their children's legal parents.