An Atlanta man says that the state of Georgia violated his constitutional rights to free speech when it denied an application for vanity license plates with the word “gay.”
Two free-speech attorneys have filed a lawsuit on behalf of James Cyrus Gilbert against Georgia Department of Driver Services Commissioner Robert G. Mikell after the the state refused to issue tags that said 4GAYLIB, GAYPWR and GAYGUY. The state, however, has approved religious plates with similar messages.
“It’s not like I was asking for something that was vulgar or over the top,” Gilbert told The Atlanta Constitution. “Denying someone the right to put gay on their tag, that’s political. If I want I could get a tag that said straight man, but because it had gay on it, it’s not available.”
The Georgia Department of Revenue has claimed that it is not possible to always be consistent when approving plates because the task is distributed among many different employees with differing views.
“I think it’s pretty clear the statute has been applied arbitrary without regard to any state interest,” said free speech attorney Cynthia Counts, who represents Gilbert. “And the restrictions have reflected viewpoint discrimination and that alone should be fatal.”
An Atlanta Journal Constitutionreport earlier this month found that Georgia had inconsistently approved vanity tags. For example, BELLY is allowed and UTERUS is not. ENGLAND and SYRIA are okay, but IRAQ and IRAN2 got nixed.
“Really these license plates are one of the primary ways Georgians use free speech,” American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia former legal director Gerry Weber, who is also representing Gilbert, explained to the paper. “Not many Georgians go to rallies, but thousands of Georgians express themselves through these license plates. Think about how many people over the course of a year see your license plate. That’s a huge audience.”
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