ATLANTA - Sunday alcohol sales are coming to dozens of Georgia cities and several counties as voters overwhelmingly approved the change on Tuesday.
Cities including Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Valdosta, Dunwoody, Gainesville and East Point voted to approve Sunday alcohol package sales between 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. at grocery and liquor stores. Only a handful of cities rejected the measure, including Palmetto, Varnell and Garden City.
Counties including Bibb, Chatham and Cherokee passed the measure, which was rejected in Elbert, Sumter and Whitfield counties. Most of Georgia's 159 counties did not take up the issue on this year's ballot, which did not feature many contests in an off-year election.
Customers could begin buying liquor as soon as this month in some communities. Effective dates and times will vary by municipality.
Georgia was one of three remaining states - including Indiana and Connecticut - that did not allow Sunday alcohol sales, and the last Southern holdout.
Earlier this year, the Georgia Legislature passed a law allowing local governments to let voters weigh in on the issue. The measure had stalled for years at the Capitol as lawmakers faced resistance from religious groups and the threat of a veto from former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
This year, Gov. Nathan Deal signaled his support for legislation that would allow local control of the issue, shifting the discussion from morality to individual liberty. Though the issue was not on the ballot statewide, municipalities had the option of putting the measure on the ballot as soon as Tuesday, and many moved to do so. More cities and counties are expected to take up the issue next year.
The Rev. Mike Shearon, pastor of Tunnel Hill United Methodist Church, said he voted against the Sunday sales law in his community, where the issue failed by a vote of 35-58. While he did not advocate a position from the pulpit, Shearon said that he believes his community rejected the measure as a matter of family values.
"No sale on Sunday is at least one day of abstinence for those who do not know moderation in drinking," Shearon said. "We would rather the roads be safe on Sunday than have what small amount of revenue might be generated by one day of additional sales. This is the Bible Belt down here and we do believe in honoring the Lord's Day. It's a day to try to put aside those things that may be a temptation."
Nicholas Tecosky of Atlanta voted in favor of Sunday sales. The 32-year-old native of the city said he was glad to finally have a chance to weigh in on the issue.
"I always thought that not having alcohol sales on Sunday was a little bit archaic," Tecosky said. "It was a holdover from a past time, whether it was for religious reasons or political reasons, I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to buy the same thing on Sunday that we do on Saturday."
Willie Stephens didn't want to say how he voted on Sunday sales, but he liked being able to decide for himself, rather than leaving the issue to lawmakers, who he said don't always make the right decisions.
"I think people should be able to decide whatever they want to do," said Stephens, 70. "The masses of the people normally vote right."
Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday that the group would continue to urge voters who have not yet taken up the issue to oppose Sunday alcohol sales in their community. He said he will be looking to communities that opposed the issue to figure out why they rejected it.
"It's discouraging to me that it passed as big as it did where it did," Luquire said. "Looking into next year, we need to decide is there a potential to win, and if not, we need to divert our activity to other family issues. (This vote) indicates that it will be very difficult for us to sustain an effort to defeat it."
Luquire said he believes people were more concerned with securing the right to buy alcohol than religion or morality.
"A lot of these folks are new Georgians, and their states had Sunday sales," he said. "They just don't understand why Georgia did not."