On a warm autumn morning, in a simple wedding ceremony that took about two minutes, two lives were joined together in marriage.
It took place Saturday in an easily overlooked small park on South Main Street in downtown Hinesville — otherwise unremarkable except for a white gazebo and small walking bridge over a creek with tall trees to provide shade — next to the Ameris Bank branch at the intersection with Hendry Street.
The couple have known each other for the past 30 years. In 1985, 17-year-old Stacey Parr got a job at a Savannah service-merchandise store and quickly caught the attention of Sidney Gough, who was a manager there.
For his part, Parr was drawn to Gough’s red sports car — a car Parr later wrecked. But the two said it was a case of love at first sight, and they have been together ever since — through a move to Atlanta and then retirement in Midway a couple of years ago.
They had everything many other long-together couples had except one — the legal ability to marry, and all the legal benefits that come with marriage.
That changed Saturday, three months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a controversial 5-4 decision extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
“It makes you feel like you’re equal to everyone else, like you’re actually a citizen,” Parr said.
Gough said he and Parr were aware that other Georgia same-sex couples traveled to where they could be legally married — states that had legalized it, even Canada. But Gough thought, “Why do that?”
“You’re in Georgia, so it means nothing here,” Gough, 62, said.
Once the high-court decision did make same-sex marriages legal in Georgia, it was an easy step for Parr and Gough to take.
“We thought about it for awhile and decided to go ahead and do it,” Parr, 47, said. “After 30 years — it was a long engagement, I guess you could say.”
Minister Irvin Neighoff presided over the ceremony, which took place in a gazebo decorated with white and black streamers. He reminded the couple that love is the foundation that will keep a relationship going and that “no other human ties are more tender, no other vows more sacred” than marriage vows.
Neighoff read the traditional question to each man, asking if he would have the other to be his “lawfully wedded partner from this day forward, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and cherish ’til death do you part, according to God’s holy order?”
Parr and Gough answered in turn, “I will.”
Each then placed a wedding ring on the other’s ring finger and repeated the statement read by Neighoff explaining the symbolism of the ring joining their two lives into one.
After he pronounced them married, the few friends and family members standing around the gazebo cheered.
It was Parr and Gough’s choice not to have a large wedding. They also don’t plan a honeymoon.
Neighoff is an ordained minister based in Hinesville but is not affiliated with a church. He said he performs marriage ceremonies all over the state for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. He said Parr and Gough’s wedding was the fourth same-sex ceremony he has performed in Liberty County.
Liberty County Probate Judge Nancy Aspinwall said her office does not specifically track marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples.
Sheri Hyde, a neighbor of Parr and Gough’s, appeared to be more excited than the men themselves.
In fact, that was the case at several places the men went as they prepared for their marriage. Parr said that when he went to the get the marriage-license application, the woman he talked to in Liberty County Probate Court “was very excited” and said, “Oh, look, we have our new licenses for men to marry men and women to marry women as well.” (The new application refers to “groom/applicant 1” and “bride/applicant 2.”)
Hyde helped the couple prepare for the wedding.
When she and the men went into a pawn shop looking for rings, a young man caught wind of what was going on, sat down at a piano in the pawn shop, and started playing “The Wedding March,” she and Parr said.
“It’s just fair,” Hyde said. “Two people that love each other should be able to get married and should have all the rights that a heterosexual couple has.”