Five gay couples lined up and asked for marriage licenses in Decatur, Ga., today, and all were denied, as expected, because Georgia prohibits same-sex marriages.
The couples were participating in the “We Do” action, one of many organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality, which seeks to bring Southern states into the national conversation about marriage equality.
While the couples knew they would be denied a marriage license because of Georgia’s state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, they all said they wanted to put a face on LGBT people in the state who are treated as second-class citizens because of who they love.
A group of more than 60 people, including the five couples, marched quietly from the Decatur Public Library to the DeKalb Courthouse. On the lawn of the courthouse, everyone gathered in a prayer circle as clergy from various denominations gave words of encouragement and blessings.
The couples, along with attorneys with the Campaign for Southern Equality and Lambda Legal’s Southeastern Office based in Atlanta, then made their way to the Probate Court Clerk’s office in the basement of the building where, interestingly, pistol licenses are also issued.
As each couple asked for a license, the clerk pointed out that two people of the same gender are not allowed to get married in Georgia because of state law.
The couples then expressed their desire to get married, some sharing with the clerk how long they had been together and their wish to have the same rights as straight couples have. All couples said they hope to one day return when their marriages would be legally recognized.
Elizabeth Lewis, who has worked in the office for 17 years, was one of two clerks denying applications for marriage licenses. She declined to comment.
Afterwards, when the couples walked back to the front of the courthouse, they were greeted with cheers and applause by the large group of supporters waiting for them.
“This needs to be done. Love shouldn’t be a political statement,” said Jens Palsaard, who, with his partner, Rob Anglin, was one of the five couples who received marriage licenses with a clerk’s handwritten note that it had been denied.
“If you want to change the world, you have to be the one who does it. This is really important to do, especially with the Supreme Court cases coming up,” he added. “This shows that this impacts a lot of people, even in the South where the issue is minimized.”
Kathy Bragg and Linda Edmunds, together for 30 years, said it was an amazing step forward just for them to be able to be denied a marriage license.
Beth Schissel, who was discharged from the Air Force under the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that is now repealed, gave a tearful speech after the action. She and her partner, Sally White, have been together for 15 years and moved to Sandy Springs a year ago.
“The folks in the office were very nice. But the paper wasn’t what mattered,” Schissel said with tears in her eyes. Watch her emotional statement here.
“There are five couples that went up there today. There are thousands of couples in the South, most of whom are not in a safe space that they could have walked up and asked for a denial today in a … public forum,” she said.
“There are southern states that haven’t passed any protections for us to not be fired for being gay and many have to worry about losing their job.
“But this is about families,” Schissel added. “We’re not second class citizens. And we are not really in your face about this, but we are saying we are here.”
On Jan. 9, the We Do campaign travels to Morristown, Tenn. — a rural town in East Tennessee where one male couple will seek and be denied a marriage license. The campaign winds up in Arlington, Va., where gay couples will also be denied marriage licenses. Then the group of activists will march approximately four miles to Washington, D.C., to participate in the legal marriage of a couple in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
Other couples participating in today’s protest were Daphne Green and Kimberly Green and Amanda Styles and Megan Swett. View photos from the action here.
Top photo: Daphne Green (far right) and her partner of three years, Kimberly Green, were one of five same-sex couples denied a marriage license today at the DeKalb County Courthouse. With them is Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of Campaign for Southern Equality, which organized today’s action. Second photo: Beth Schissell, with her partner of 15 years, Sally White, gives a tearful response about being denied a marriage licenses. Bottom photo: Members of Campaign for Southern Equality, same-sex couples and supporters march to the DeKalb Courthouse on Jan. 7. (Photos by Dyana Bagby)