Something happened on the way to marriage equality in Georgia. The defender of the state's gay marriage ban is ready for defeat, the anti-gay governor is acquiescing and judges are redesigning marriage licenses.
Welcome to Georgia, circa June 2015. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court could rule gay marriage legal and invalidate bans remaining in 13 states, including Georgia. Top state officials, including Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal, are talking gay marriage ahead of Tuesday, when the high court will hear arguments in four gay marriage cases. The court's decision is expected by late June.
What are Olens and Deal saying? We're not Alabama. So expect the state to fall in line behind the court's decision if it delivers gay marriage to Georgia.
“I think we understand that in our republican form of government, that federal, constitutional issues trump state constitutional issues," Deal told WABE. "So we will abide by whatever the Supreme Court rules as an interpretation of the United States Constitution.”
Not that he's happy about, Deal told the AJC.
Deal, who backs the same-sex marriage ban, signaled he is also unlikely to take a defiant stance against gay marriage if it’s legalized. In a recent interview, he said he was most concerned that a court decision could override the will of elected officials.
“This is unfortunately one of those areas that will be determined by federal courts and not a legislative body,” he said.
The governor's comments came after similar remarks from Olens, the chief architect of Georgia's lingering legal fight to keep its gay marriage ban in place. Olens, in fact, has also urged the Supreme Court to uphold marriage bans in Georgia and other states.
But he'll be gracious in defeat, Olens told the Atlanta Press Club on Wednesday.
“If the court rules that Georgia’s constitutional amendment is legal, the press release from my office will be that the Supreme Court has spoken. We’ll follow the law. If the Supreme Court at the end of June says that constitutional amendments like Georgia’s are unconstitutional, the press release from my office is going to be, the Supreme Court has spoken, and Georgia’s going to follow the law.”
And probate judges across Georgia – already making it clear they are ready to issue marriage licenses to gay couples – are redesigning the licenses. "Bride" and "groom" could be replaced with "Applicant 1" and "Applicant 2," Judge Don E. Wilkes, the head of the state's probate judges group, told the Daily Report.
After the meeting, Wilkes said part of the preparedness includes redesigning marriage licenses, which traditionally have listed information for a bride and a groom. If the Supreme Court strikes down same-sex marriage bans, new licenses may list the parties simply as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2, Wilkes said.
"We also looked to see whether there were any conflicting state laws, and we didn't find any," he said.
Another part of preparedness is making sure that probate judges across the state know that there is a pending challenge to Georgia's ban and that the Supreme Court ruling is imminent, said Wilkes.
And here we thought Georgia would only get gay marriage when old people die.
(Photo by Stan Fong courtesy Atlanta Pride)