Impact of the gay marriage ruling, in 4 chapters


This special report was prepared by Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writers Leon Stafford, Bill Rankin, Helena Oliviero, Craig Schneider, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy.

 

The Rev. Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in East Cobb said he expected the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage, but it still hit him hard when it happened.

“It’s like when you feel the death of a loved one coming on. You’re expecting it,” Wright said. “But when you finally get the news, it’s a kick in the gut. There’s a sense of sadness.”

Wright said he can feel the larger society pulling away from his church and its teachings, and he worries about more government pressure on churches to accept ways that are contrary to God’s law.

The scene was quite different at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church downtown.

Senior pastor Dan Matthews Jr. was closely following updates at his computer when he got the news shortly after 10 a.m. Friday. He says he jumped up from his desk and sprinted down the hallway shouting, “They affirmed gay marriage! They affirmed gay marriage!”

Matthews and his staff hugged, applauded, whooped and hollered. He got goosebumps. And he considered the evolution of his own attitudes toward homosexuality.

“In the church, and lots of Christian churches in general, there have been generations of being openly antagonistic to gay people, and for me, it was almost like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” he said. “What has really changed is that is not good enough anymore. We have moved away from don’t ask, don’t tell to saying we have to be openly affirming.”

Two pastors – two men of faith who believe in the same God but have sharply diverging views about His teachings. The gulf between them represents the separation between masses of believers in Georgia. In these days after the same-sex marriage ruling, that separation only seems to be growing.

Peter Berg, senior rabbi at the Temple, the largest synagogue in Georgia, was effusive about the court’s decision.

“We celebrate the ruling,” he said. “And we celebrate it from a religious perspective.”

He said the Temple, a Reform Jewish congregation, has been supportive of same-sex marriage and has taken several steps over the years to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians. About two years ago, the synagogue changed the wording on its applications from husband and wife and/or male and female to “member one” and “member 2.”

While the membership is politically diverse at The Temple, the congregation as a whole, is “very supportive of gay marriage.”

“In terms of Jewish values, first of all, we don’t read the text that homosexuality is an abomination the way it is translated by contemporary texts,” said Berg. “Our read of the Bible is the basic belief that humans are created in God’s image and it means we oppose discrimination of all individuals because the divine is present in every person.”

While Berg talked of the divine, many opponents of same-sex marriage seemed to see other forces at work in the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., a minister in addition to being a congressman, seemed to fall into that “lover the sinner, hate the sin” camp on Friday, expressing disgust with the court and its ruling.

“I will continue to stand on my principles of faith, rather than willy-nilly judicial activism, which is both inherently wrong and abhorrent,” Hice said.

Wright, of the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, says the faith and beliefs of Southern Baptists won’t change because of the ruling, although the decision does solidify his understanding that Southern Baptists’ view is now in the minority.

“It’s put us in conflict with the law of the land,” he said.

This one issue does put Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics in the same camp: the Catholics, too, disapprove of same-sex marriage and will not perform such weddings. But there’s division among and even within Protestant denominations as well.

At Glenn Memorial Methodist Church on the Emory University campus, pastor Alice Rogers said in a statement: “We rejoice over equal protection under the law being extended to our LGBT parishioners, and while full inclusion has not yet been supported by the UMC as a whole, those of us who support it will continue our work until our polity reflects the wisdom of the court.”

 

Just after Friday’s decision, Delta Air Lines tweeted a picture of a rainbow flag with the hashtag #lovewins. If that left any ambiguity, the company also celebrated the ruling on billboards – MARRIAGE TAKES FLIGHT, said one – in Atlanta, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Big business is by nature risk-averse, but Coca-Cola also pushed for marriage equality, signing on to an amicus brief in the case with 300 other companies. “It is … appropriate for us to help foster diversity, tolerance, unity and respect among all people,” the company said in its statement.

So what was in it for companies that backed marriage rights? Experts say businesses in the 36 states that allowed same-sex marriage, along with Washington D.C., enjoyed an advantage in attracting gay and lesbian talent because those workers could maintain their rights and benefits when relocating.

“I know people who had great job offers here but stayed where they were because of that,” said Atlanta attorney Nancy Rafuse, who specializes in employment law.

For instance, Delta employees in Seattle who are gay and married might have declined a transfer to Atlanta because their benefits as a legal union, such as hospital visitation or parenting an adopted child, would have been lost in Georgia.

Of course, being on the winning side of the Supreme Court decision helps validate the strategy. But there’s always risk with such corporate activism. Picking the wrong battle can be disastrous and lead to a customer revolt, said Tim Calkins, a branding expert at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

A case in point, he said, is Starbucks. The coffee giant this past March ditched CEO Howard Schultz’s short-lived attempt to start a dialogue on race by encouraging baristas to write “race together” on cups. Customers overwhelmingly rejected the idea of mixing their morning cup of joe with the difficult topic of race relations.

“You hate to lose customers because you take a stand on an issue, especially if you’re a public company,” Calkins said.

Even before Friday’s decision, an app for iPhone and Android called “2nd Vote” had been launched to help opponents of same-sex marriage know where more than 400 companies stand on the issue. The app grades companies from liberal to conservative based on donations they make to groups backing or opposing gay marriage.

Some believe Delta lost about $20 million in Georgia tax credits for fuel earlier this year in part because of CEO Richard Anderson’s outspoken support for gay rights. The company opposed a religious liberty bill during the 2015 Georgia legislative session that many say was similar to those in Indiana and Arkansas.

“Gay people and bisexual people and transgender people deserve the exact same rights,” Anderson said in a May appearance at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. “That may cost Delta 1 percent more fuel tax at the airport, but that’s the way it goes, because that’s the way it has to work. … Those issues we all have an obligation to stand up for.”

Legislators who led the effort to eliminate the tax break claimed that Delta’s political views had nothing to do with their measure, but they conceded that Anderson’s comments made it easier for them to find votes in support of the bill.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has experienced reaction from both sides. When CEO Dan Cathy in 2012 told a Christian magazine he opposed same-sex unions, gay rights supporters called for boycotts of the chicken chain while conservatives rallied in support.

Since then, Cathy has said he would not speak publicly on the subject, the company has stopped making donations to Christian-based groups that oppose same-sex marriage, and leaders have sought to emphasize Cathy’s remarks as personal and not representative of Chick-fil-A. The company did not issue a statement about the ruling Friday.

Melissa Dodd, an assistant professor of advertising and public relations at the University of Central Florida, notes that Cathy’s earlier statements cast his company as a political player, for good or ill. The headlines didn’t say “Dan Cathy,” Dodd said. They said “Chick-fil-A.”

She said millennials, now the nation’s largest demographic and one much-coveted by marketers, tend to support companies that take a social stance.

“Millennials are cause-minded and support those companies that stand for more than profit. And companies that are savvy have noticed,” Dodd said.

 

The landmark ruling set a far-reaching precedent expected to advance gay rights and protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, legal experts said. But the ruling also had an immediate, practical impact on those same-sex couples who are now exchanging marriage vows at courthouses and churches across Georgia, as well as couples who had already traveled to other states to marry legally there.

Married same-sex couples in Georgia can now file joint state tax returns; they no longer need to carry legal documentation that allows them to make emergency medical decisions for a suddenly incapacitated spouse; it will be easier for such couples to adopt children; under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they may now take time off from work to care for a spouse.

Tameeka Hunter of Atlanta, who celebrated her 42nd birthday on the same day as the ruling, said she and her partner of 13 years had to leave her home state to get married, in New York. Her spouse, Rebecca Glatzer, is white. Hunter is black. She said the two chose to marry on the 48th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia – June 12 – in which the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for states to block interracial marriage.

“I keep thinking about how I am a Georgian,” Hunter said. “I was born in Georgia, I own property here, I went to school here, I’m pursuing a Ph.d. here. It was really kind of an insult that we’d have to go another state for our love to be validated.”

The ruling will also make it easier for same-sex couples to adopt children and it will help ensure a fair distribution of an estate when a same-sex spouse dies without a will, said Atlanta lawyer Kim Civins, who specializes in estate planning. And now a married same-sex spouse in Georgia may take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act and take time off from work to take care of an ill spouse.

This may seem an ironic twist, but another key legal consequence of the ruling: now that there is gay marriage, there can also be gay divorce.

Because Georgia had forbidden it, the only way a same-sex couple here could get married would have been to travel to another state that allowed it. But this posed huge problems for those same married couples who had a falling out. They couldn’t get a divorce in Georgia, because the state didn’t recognize their marriage. So if they wanted to divorce, they had to return to the state in which they were married and use the court systems there. Some states required these couples to establish residence there before they could formally file for divorce.

“I’m aware of people who were forced to stay married because they couldn’t get divorced,” Civins said. “Neither one wanted to go back and establish residence. So they were stuck in the trap of marriage even though they wanted no part of one another.”

Now, because of Friday’s ruling, same-sex married couples may do precisely what opposite-sex couples may do: avail themselves of the courts in Georgia to get divorced, regardless of where they were married.

Rafuse, the Atlanta lawyer who specializes in employment law, said same-sex couples in Georgia who accumulated joint assets often found it extremely difficult to split up their property when they decided to break up.

“I’ve known some who’ve had to go to a small claims court to resolve those disputes,” Rafuse said. “There was just no other process for it because they weren’t married.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy went into great detail about the indignities suffered by gays and lesbians who have not been allowed to wed or whose marriages were not recognized in the states they resided.

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy cited problems same-sex couples faced because they were unable to marry.

The lead plaintiff, James Obergefell, married his partner John Arthur in Maryland in 2013 because their home state of Ohio did not allow or recognize same-sex marriage. They returned to Ohio, where Arthur died three months later of ALS.

But the state would not list Obergefell was unable to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. This meant they remained “strangers even in death, a state-imposed separation,” Kennedy wrote.

 

Chapter 4: POLITICS

As same-sex couples streamed into Georgia courthouses to get married Friday, opponents of same-sex marriage forecast a new wave of legislation to protect those with moral objections to gay weddings and overhaul marriage’s legal framework.

Amid cries of “judicial activism,” conservatives in Washington are renewing a push for a constitutional amendment on marriage, but it stands no chance of earning the necessary two-thirds majorities in both houses. Any major pushback will come, most likely, in the states.

In Georgia that means new energy for “religious liberty” proposals that failed the past two years amid opposition from business interests. The boosters of Senate Bill 129, a key “religious liberty” proposal during the past legislative session, see it as an extra layer of protection against government intrusion on religious beliefs, while critics say it enables businesses to discriminate against gay customers.

And Republican leaders expect another round of proposals that could enable some government officials to opt out of gay wedding ceremonies; create a new “covenant marriage” statute aimed at the deeply religious; and take the government out of the marriage business entirely.

Gay rights groups are not stopping at marriage, either, as they plan to take aim at Georgia’s anti-discrimination statutes.

Some predict a Roe v. Wade scenario — after the Supreme Court’s still-standing but constantly challenged 1973 abortion ruling — in which a controversial decision develops into a prolonged legal and political fight.

“There’s going to be a flurry of religious liberty measures that are a reaction to this decision,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican who sponsored SB 129 and sides with opponents of gay marriage.

McKoon and others also expect legislation that would dramatically change how marriage licenses are issued in Georgia. One proposal making the rounds would enable a religious or secular leader to issue a marriage certificate that can then be recorded with a probate judge. In that way, no government official is actually issuing a license.

“That would free government officials of the responsibility of making that decision,” McKoon said. “And it gets the government totally out of the marriage business.”

In Washington three Georgians are among the 37 House Republicans who have co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to declare marriage as between one man and one woman — the only way to override the high court’s decision.

But other Republicans appear ready to move on. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican running for re-election next year, was ready to concede the legal case — if not his own personal views.

“I am disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision,” Isakson said Friday. “However, I respect the three branches of government and the court has rendered its decision. Many Americans, including myself, will continue to personally believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Gay rights groups, sensing momentum shifting in their favor, will press now for a long-sought priority — legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Georgia’s statewide laws against discrimination in the workplace.

“Right now it’s still completely legal to fire someone for being gay or transgender,” said Robbie Medwed of Sojourn, a Jewish gay rights alliance. “You can get married on Sunday, fired on Monday.”

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for more than 30 years,” said Sted Mays, who waited for a marriage license with his fiance Charles Bjorklund shortly after the court’s ruling. “But we also know this is our first step. There are so many more to come.”

Also contributing to this report were staff writers Jane Hammond and Kristina Torres.



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