Georgia: Metro Atlanta court begins marrying same-sex couples

Shawn Brown, left, and Christian Marasko hold hands as they are married during a mass wedding at the Fulton County Government Center Friday, June 26, 2015, in Atlanta.

Shawn Brown, left, and Christian Marasko hold hands as they are married during a mass wedding at the Fulton County Government Center Friday, June 26, 2015, in Atlanta. John Bazemore, AP

Shawn Brown, left, and Christian Marasko hold hands as they are married during a mass wedding at the Fulton County Government Center Friday, June 26, 2015, in Atlanta. John Bazemore, AP

Shawn Brown, left, and Christian Marasko hold hands as they are married during a mass wedding at the Fulton County Government Center Friday, June 26, 2015, in Atlanta. Georgia was one of 14 states where a ban on same-sex marriage existed.

ATLANTA — A court in Atlanta started marrying gay couples Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Multiple gay couples received marriage licenses Friday morning, Fulton County Probate Court Clerk James Brock said. One of those couples, Petrina Bloodworth and Emma Foulkes, was married in a ceremony Friday morning right after receiving their license. They were the first gay couple to be married in Fulton County.

“I’m just ecstatic right now. I can’t believe it finally happened,” Bloodworth said after a judge performed their ceremony.

Emma Foulkes, left, and Petrina Bloodworth cut a wedding cake after being married at the Fulton County Courthouse Friday, June 26, 2015, 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. Fulton County Probate Court Clerk James Brock says three gay couples have received marriage licenses.John Bazemore, AP

Emma Foulkes, left, and Petrina Bloodworth cut a wedding cake after being married at the Fulton County Courthouse Friday, June 26, 2015, 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. Fulton County Probate Court Clerk James Brock says three gay couples have received marriage licenses.

“Our cheeks are going to be hurting tomorrow because we’ve been smiling constantly the last few hours,” Foulkes said.

Georgia was one of 14 states that still banned gay marriage, and the Supreme Court’s ruling means Georgia struck down that ban.

Here’s a look at the history of Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban, reactions to the high court ruling and what’s next:

GROUP WEDDING

Fourteen same-sex couples and one heterosexual couple got married early Friday afternoon in a group wedding at the Fulton County government center across the street from the courthouse. Other weddings took place Friday at the courthouse, elsewhere in Atlanta and in other parts of the state.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta, which opened about a year ago, planned to hold a Friday evening celebration of the ruling. Representatives from various gay rights groups, plaintiffs and attorneys who challenged Georgia’s gay marriage ban, elected officials and other civic and religious leaders were expected to attend.

HISTORY OF GEORGIA’S SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BAN

Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004. Gay rights groups filed lawsuits in state court challenging the wording of the ballot question, but the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled the vote was valid in 2006.

The state constitution prohibits same-sex marriage and says that Georgia will recognize only the union of a man and a woman as marriage and that same-sex marriages performed in others states are not legally recognized.

CHALLENGE TO GEORGIA’S GAY MARRIAGE BAN

Gay rights group Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in April 2014 challenging Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. The suit, filed on behalf of six couples and a widow, challenges the ban itself, rather than the ballot wording that was previously challenged.

“The history of the United States has been defined by the ability of each succeeding generation to recognize that social, economic, political, religious, and historical norms do not define our unalienable rights,” the lawsuit said.

The judge in the case had stayed discovery in the case.

REACTION FROM BAN CHALLENGERS

Beth Littrell, a member of the Lambda Legal team that filed the lawsuit challenging Georgia’s ban, said she was thrilled with the outcome.
“It is a landmark victory that recognizes the humanity and dignity of LGBT people. It is a watershed moment and I couldn’t be happier,” she said in a phone interview shortly after the ruling was issued.
The legal challenge to Georgia’s gay marriage ban will likely be quickly resolved, as long as they are able to ensure that same-sex couples throughout Georgia are treated equally with respect to marriage, Littrell said.

REACTION FROM STATE

Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican who defended Georgia’s gay marriage ban, quickly instructed government agencies to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

“Once the Supreme Court has ruled, its order is the law of the land,” Olens said in a statement. “As such, Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the court.”

Gov. Nathan Deal echoed that Georgia would follow federal law.

“While I believe that this issue should be decided by the states and by legislatures, not the federal judiciary, I also believe in the rule of law,” he said in a statement.

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