Georgia sued for banning vanity license plates with word 'gay'

Posted Jan 23, 2013 by Brett Wilkins
A Georgia man is suing the state Department of Driver Services, claiming his constitutional rights were violated when the agency denied his applications for three vanity license plates containing the word 'gay.'
A Georgia vanity license plate.
A Georgia vanity license plate.
Flickr Creative Commons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that two civil rights attorneys have filed suit against Driver Services commissioner Robert G. Mickell on behalf of James Cyrus Gilbert of Atlanta. Gilbert's application for plates reading '4GAYLIB,' 'GAYPWR' and 'GAYGUY' were all rejected, despite the fact that the state has allowed many plates with political or religious messages.
"It's not like I was asking for something that was vulgar or over the top," Gilbert told the Journal-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."
Gilbert's lawsuit not only seeks approval for the rejected license plates, but also a declaration of the unconstitutionality of the regulations governing plate approval. The state Department of Revenue asserts that inconsistency in the process is inevitable given the large number of employees with varying viewpoints tasked with reviewing vanity plate applications.
According to an earlier Journal-Constitution article, this has led to some eyebrow-raising discrepancies. For example, 'BELLY' was approved but 'UTERUS' was not. 'ENGLAND' got the nod, but 'IRAQ' and 'IRAN2' did not.
"I think it's pretty clear that the statute has been applied arbitrarily," Cynthia Counts, a free-speech lawyer representing Gilbert, told the Journal-Constitution. "And the restrictions have reflected viewpoint discrimination and that alone should be fatal."
"Really, these license plates are one of the primary ways Georgians use free speech," Gerry Weber, the other lawyer representing Gilbert, told 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," Weber added. "That's a huge audience."
There is legal precedent. In 2010, a federal court ruled that a Vermont man's constitutional rights were violated when the state rejected his application for a vanity license plate with a biblical message.