For many people, expressing who they are isn’t just a function of how they dress or act, but what their vehicle’s vanity license plate says. Maybe you rocked “DMBFAN” to show your love for a band or “CATSYAY” for you know, cats, but in Georgia, one man wanted to express his sexuality and is now suing the state for denying him that.
The man and two free-speech lawyers are filing a lawsuit against the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Driver Services, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, claiming the state violated his constitutional rights by rejecting his application for three different tags: 4GAYLIB, GAYPWR and GAYGUY.
Turns out those three plates are on the state’s list of banned plates, while others showing political or religious expressions have been approved.
“It’s not like I was asking for something that was vulgar or over the top,” the Atlanta resident tells the paper. “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.”
It isn’t just that the man wants his vanity plates approved — which of course, he does — but he wants the lawsuit to make it so the state can’t regulate vanity plates in a way that the suit says is unconstitutional.
Georgia’s list of banned tags contains many a hateful phrase, but there are also a smattering of religious, philosophical and political expressions that have been dubbed as inappropriate for license plates.
AJC looked into some of these tags and found what seems to be an ambiguous distinction between what passes for okay and what gets the kibosh. For example, Georgia has approved HATERS but said no to HATERS1.
That’s just the way it works when different employees with different personal views make decisions, according to a Department of Revenue spokesman. Basically, employees are trying to be fair but can end up being subjective depending on their own feelings.
The man’s lawyers say this lack of consistent neutrality shouldn’t fly.
“I think it’s pretty clear the statute has been applied arbitrary without regard to any state interest,” said one of the free speech lawyer representing the man. “And the restrictions have reflected viewpoint discrimination and that alone should be fatal.”
ISUE4U: State sued over banned vanity plates [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]