We recently reported on the legal action Atlanta Falcon Ovie Mughelli had taken against some blogs that published the claims of a man alleging a sexual relationship with Mughelli. Now Lambda Legal is fighting back saying calling someone gay is not defamatory.
In the letter sent to various blogs, Mughelli's attorney Phaedra Parks claimed the blogs were defaming her client by saying he had had a same-sex relationship, and that calling someone gay was defamatory. The letter read:
You and your company have continuously published and/or posted stories and/or comments that allege that Mr. Mughelli is a homosexual and is or was involved in a homosexual affair with a man. As you are aware, making libelous and defamatory statements are punishable by law and subject to monetary damages and punitive relief.
Our amazing attorney Cynthia Counts, who specializes in First Amendment law, was quick to jump on the claim of defamation:
Today, the law and society are changing and I do not believe that the mere label that someone is a ‘homosexual' continues to be presumptively defamatory. Although it would be naive to suggest that no prejudice exists against gays, Georgia courts have made clear that ‘it is not libelous to charge a person with the doing of a thing which he may legally and properly do.' Because the Supreme Court has definitely held that homosexuality is not illegal, an assertion that someone is gay should not be defamatory.
Now Lambda Legal has weighed in with an open letter to Mughelli and Parks.
...we write to explain to you -- and to the internet sites to which you have written -- that, under the law of Georgia (and the law of other states) it is not defamatory to describe a person as gay, lesbian or bisexual -- nor is it defamatory to claim that someone has had a consensual, intimate, adult relationship with someone of the same sex. Moreover, your claim that someone falsely described as gay is entitled to collect money damages demeans those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual.
The open letter goes on explain how cases ruled on by the U.S. and Georgia Supreme Courts demonstrate how a court "would likely find the potential defamation action you describe in your letter as lacking substantial justification, allowing it to award any defendant(s) the costs of reasonable and necessary attorney's fees and expenses of litigation."
Lambda Legal also released a statement regarding their open letter:
"Saying that someone is gay is not an insult. Being identified as gay is neither bad nor shameful - not in life nor under the law," said Beth Littrell, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. "At its core, defamation is about disgrace. Recognition of this defamation claim would demean gay men and lesbians by giving credence to antigay biases that Georgia law rejects.."