More than a week after the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a constitutional right guaranteed for same-sex couples, not just a man and a woman, reaction in Liberty County appears to be muted.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said last week that the ruling will be “good for America.”
“The Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land and, as a mayor, I’m obligated to do the law of the land,” he said. “But from a personal standpoint, I don’t want to discriminate against anyone. I don’t think that discrimination in our society against anyone is correct. So I was glad to see the Supreme Court rule so that no one would be discriminated against.”
He went on to say, “The city is perfectly fine with the ruling and, of course, we support what the Supreme Court has said and has ruled. I just don’t think we are in the position, or should never be in the position, of discriminating against anyone.”
Liberty County Probate Judge Nancy Aspinwall, whose office issues marriage licenses, provided a copy of a Georgia application that now refers to “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2” instead of “bride” and “groom.” The court also performs civil ceremonies. As of Thursday, two same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses in Liberty County.
But more than just marriage-license applications are changing. For example, those documents describing benefits packages for employees are affected.
Donald Lovette, the chairman of the Liberty County Board of Commissioners said, “The county will abide by federal law. We’ve confirmed with our providers, especially Blue Cross Blue Shield, our insurance providers and they are also prepared. If it’s a legal marriage, a legal union, then we’re going to do the right thing. We’ll recognize it in Liberty County.”
While it’s possible that there could be an increase in rental facilities and wedding cakes and other business associated with wedding ceremonies, stimulating the local economy, Leah Poole, the CEO of the Liberty County Chamber Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, was unavailable to comment on the issue last week.
The NAACP issued a statement applauding the ruling shortly after it became public.
“Less than five decades ago, my parents’ interracial marriage was deemed illegal until Mildred & Richard Loving and the NAACP stood before the Supreme Court to demand that they be treated equally,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in that news release.
“Today, the principles that led to the victory for the Lovings and my parents are reaffirmed by the court’s historic decision. These decisions bring our nation closer to achieving the equality under the law that the NAACP has fought for since our founding.”
But Graylan Quarterman, the president of the Liberty County NAACP branch, doesn’t agree on a personal level. He does not consider same-sex marriage a civil right.
“The NAACP is a civil-rights organization and, being president of the local branch, I support civil rights of anyone and everyone,” he said in an interview. “However, I do not believe that same-sex marriage is a civil-rights issue. I believe that it is a moral issue. I’m probably different from some of the up-the-line leadership in the NAACP.
“We are a country where we say we are a Bible-based country,” he continued. “I am disappointed that our government is trying to legislate moral activities and call it civil rights. I do not support that in any aspect.
Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, of the Diocese of Savannah, said in a statement issued immediately after the high-court ruling that it does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching that marriage is a loving union between a man and woman. He said the decision is a declaration of civil rights, not a redefinition of marriage that the church teaches.
“However, this judgment does not dispense either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another,” Hartmayer said. “Nor is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions differ from our own.
“We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another,” he added.
Pastor Richard Hayes of New Day Community Church in Hinesville echoed Hartmayer in that his main focus is love.
“In my personal opinion, I am not in agreement with it; however, I am not focused on it,” Hayes said. “I was not focused on it before, and that’s not my focus after. The point at New Day Community Church is to love everybody.”
Hayes said he was more disappointed in the response and criticism of the court’s ruling by some Christians.
“The Bible says, ‘Let no corrupt talk come from our mouths.’ It seems that when this ruling came down, nothing but corrupt talk came, even from those that profess the love of God,” he said. “The love of God allows us to love things that may be different from us.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens both said in statements that the state will follow federal law. However, Deal said he believes this issue should be decided by the states and legislatures, not federal court.
The Georgia Legislature convenes in January.
State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, whose district includes parts of Liberty County, said he expects the “religious-liberty aspect” to be brought up for discussion. Part of that discussion could be drafting legislation that protects churches from performing ceremonies for same-sex couples that do not support gay marriage.