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'Watershed and upsetting: Same-sex ruling stirs emotions locally
Area leaders, residents, clergy share strong feelings on court decision
Gay marriage
Emma Foulkes, left, and Petrina Bloodworth hold hands and show their wedding rings after being married at the Fulton County Courthouse Friday in Atlanta. A court in Atlanta has started marrying gay couples after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Georgia's ban on same-sex marriage

The outcome of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage had some Hall County residents and politicians pleased, while others maintained their opposition to the 5-4 landmark decision.

While gay and lesbian couples already can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia, the court’s ruling means the remaining 14 states — like Georgia — must stop enforcing bans on same-sex marriage.

Amanda Roper of Gainesville felt the Supreme Court’s decision was just.

“I think states’ rights are very important, but not when they infringe on human rights,” said Roper, who is a heterosexual woman. “Homosexuality is how people are born. It’s who they are, and to deny a group of people the security that comes with marriage is wrong.”

Hall County GOP chairwoman Debra Pilgrim said the ruling was “upsetting.”

“The federal government is coming in and taking rights away from the state,” Pilgrim said. “The Republican platform has always said marriage is between a man and a woman. To my knowledge, there has been no change in that.”

Douglas Young, a professor of political science and history at the University of North Georgia Gainesville, also feels states, and not the federal government, should make the call.

“I think history teaches us that we should be very cautious with a one-size-fits-all federal approach,” Young said. “The question is, how do we balance the rights of individuals with what is in the best interest of the community as a whole? We are a huge society, and public policies should reflect the best interest of the people.”

The Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, said Friday’s decision was “a watershed day for the nation and for all different denominations to reflect on what love looks like in all of its different forms.”

While Higginbotham has not had the chance to perform a “same-sex blessing” — a church ceremony for gay and lesbian couples — he would perform one if asked to do so.

“I would do it,” Higginbotham said. “I would talk to my staff about it first, but yes. And, we would treat that marriage like any other marriage.”

Other religious leaders also chimed in on the topic, like Terry Walton, senior pastor of Gainesville First United Methodist Church.

“The United Methodist Church for quite some time has been vocal that we believe all people are people of value and worth, and all are loved by God,” Walton said. “The church, at this juncture, does not allow clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies by church law.”

The Rev. Bill Coates of First Baptist Church Gainesville said that every church “will have to decide how to walk through this marriage equality debate. I think we should respect those who choose to allow their ministers not to perform same-sex weddings out of their own deep convictions, and I think we should respect churches that choose to allow their ministers that right.”

Added Coates: “As with most things in life, we have to balance. In this case, we must balance our esteem for the dignity of every person, gay or straight, with the harmony of the congregation we are part of. It is not easy, but it is possible.”

The outcome of Friday’s decision is the culmination of two decades of Supreme Court litigation over marriage, and gay rights generally.

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says.

As of Friday afternoon, there had been no same-sex couples come into the Hall County Courthouse to file for a marriage license. Probate Judge Patty Walters Laine said the office, however, had been getting phone calls from local residents asking about it.

Laine said they were prepared for any that might come in to apply. She said there were no changes in the usual marriage paperwork, other than the words “bride” and “groom.”

“It now reads ‘applicant 1’ and ‘applicant 2’” Laine said.

A statement from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens reiterated the following to local governments that issue marriage licenses: “Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the Court.”

“In our system of government, the Supreme Court bears the ultimate responsibility for determining the constitutionality of our laws. Once the Supreme Court has ruled it, its order is the law of the land,” Olens stated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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