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Special justice appointed to hear gay marriage arguments

ATLANTA - A special justice has been named to hear an appeal involving the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage, the Georgia Supreme Court announced on Thursday.

Superior Court Judge F. Larry Salmon, of Floyd County, will hear arguments in place of Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton, a former counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue. Melton is named in legal papers challenging the same-sex marriage ban from his time in the executive branch and has declined to participate in arguments in the case.

Court spokesman Rick Diguette said substitute justices are named in most cases where a justice on the seven-member court steps aside because of a conflict.

The state is appealing Superior Court Judge Constance Russell's May ruling striking down the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage. Georgia voters approved the ban with 76 percent approval in 2004. Russell said the ballot measure violated the state's single-subject rule for ballot questions.

Although Georgia still has a law on the books banning same-sex marriage, Perdue said the measure may need to go before voters again in November. He has said he will call for a special session of the Legislature if the court agrees with Russell or fails to act by Aug. 7.

Oral arguments in the appeal are scheduled for June 27.

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