Last edited: February 14, 2005

Court Allows Job Denial After Lesbian Marriage

Associated Press, January 13, 1998

By Richard Carelli

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of a lesbian lawyer who says Georgia’s attorney general denied her a job because of her "marriage" to another woman.

Passing up a case closely watched by gay-rights groups, the court let stand a ruling that said Robin Joy Shahar’s rights were not violated when former Attorney General Michael Bowers withdrew the job offer.

She contends he violated her rights of association and equal protection by the action he took in 1991.

But Georgia’s lawyers said Bowers’ action was based on Shahar’s "holding herself out as married to another woman and was not precipitated by some generalized animus against homosexuals."

Shahar, now working for the Atlanta city government, said she was very disappointed by Monday’s court action.

"There is often a lag between the public’s perception and intolerance of unfairness and the court’s willingness to rectify unfairness," she said. "In the future, people will look back on this case with embarrassment."

Matt Coles of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that helped Shahar with her lawsuit, said he regretted the court’s "passing up this opportunity to decide whether lesbians and gay men have the same right to intimate associations that other Americans have."

But Coles emphasized that the denial of review sets no national precedent.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization, called on Congress to pass a law "that would protect all Americans from job discrimination based on sexual orientation."
Bowers declined comment on the decision.

Shahar was a law student when she worked as a clerk in the Georgia Department of Law in the summer of 1990.

That September, Bowers offered her a job as a staff attorney when she graduated from law school. She accepted and was to begin work in September 1991.

In July 1991, Shahar and another woman made a lifelong commitment to one another in a religious ceremony. Shahar said she realized the ceremony had no legal significance.

A few weeks before the event, Shahar received a letter from Bowers that withdrew her job offer.

"This action has become necessary," Bowers said, "in light of information which has only recently come to my attention relating to a purported marriage between you and another woman."

"As chief legal officer of this state, inaction on my part would constitute tacit approval of this purported marriage and jeopardize the proper functioning of this office," Bowers said.

Shahar sued. A federal trial judge ruled that her relationship with her partner was a "constitutionally protected intimate association," but also concluded that Bowers had not acted unlawfully.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bowers’ victory last May, voting 8-4 that he had not violated any of Shahar’s rights.

The appeals court said it was reasonable to believe that lesbians who profess to be married to each other engage in homosexual relations in violation of Georgia law.

It added: "We cannot say that Georgia’s attorney general is clearly wrong to worry that reasonable people - inside and outside the Law Department - in Georgia could think along these same lines."

The Supreme Court in 1986 upheld Georgia’s anti-sodomy law as applied to its ban on consenting adults engaging in homosexual conduct.

Shahar asked the appeals court to reconsider its ruling after Bowers, who left office to be a Republican candidate for governor in the 1998 elections, revealed that for more than a decade he had an adulterous affair with a woman he once employed.

The appeals court refused.

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