11th Circuit Court punts Georgia gay marriage case to Supreme Court

And the wait continues. After Judge William Duffey issued a Jan. 29 order that opened up the door for a brief flirtation with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court shut that down in an order issued late Wednesday, saying they will not hear any appeals—Georgia, Florida or Alabama’s—until the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage.

This virtually guarantees that Georgia will be, if not exactly the last, it will be among the last if the Supreme Court rules as many think they will and legalizes same-sex marriage across the country. Same-sex couples in Florida have been getting legally married since the beginning of the year and Alabama same-sex couples are expected to begin marrying on Monday.

Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham. (photo by Patrick Saunders)
Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham. (photo by Patrick Saunders)

The news put a slight damper on a marriage equality townhall at the Rush Center Wednesday evening, featuring Lambda Legal senior attorney Tara Borelli, Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham and Georgia Equality faith outreach consultant Rev. Duncan Teague.

“They’ve decided that we’re a matter of mere months away from a Supreme Court ruling and it doesn’t make sense to proceed when the Supreme Court’s going to say what the constitution requires so soon,” said Borelli.

And while many assume the matter will be decided at the end of the court’s term in late June, Borelli cautioned that that’s not a guarantee and that the court could continue the issue in the following term, pushing a decision well into 2016.

In the meantime as far as the Georgia case is concerned, the defendants must file an answer to Judge Duffey’s order by February 17. And Borelli says Lambda Legal is conferring on what move they’ll make next.

Concern over marriage equality backlash in Georgia

Following a federal judge’s ruling saying Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, the state’s Chief Justice Roy Moore sent a letter to probate judges saying that regardless of the ruling, they don’t have to issue marriage licenses. Court clerks in other states have refused to issue licenses.

Attendees at Wednesday evening’s marriage townhall voiced concerns over something similar happening in Georgia should the state’s same-sex marriage ban fall. Borelli said that won’t fly.

“I’m from California and we’ve been through this already. It ain’t gonna work,” she said. “The government, and that means the entire government, state and local, is bound by the constitution and if the Supreme Court says that the constitution does require equal treatment, that will mean that the government agencies will have to provide equal treatment.”

Attendees at the townhall Wednesday night voiced concerns over a backlash should marriage equality come to Georgia. (photo by Patrick Saunders)
Attendees at the townhall Wednesday night voiced concerns over a backlash should marriage equality come to Georgia. (photo by Patrick Saunders)

However, Georgia Equality’s Graham remains worried, appearing to make a comparison to the African-American civil rights movement.

“I am actually very concerned about a backlash here in Georgia,” he said. “It is going to be a fantastic moment for our community and a fantastic moment for those of us who wish to marry, or for those who are married and wish our marriages to be recognized here where we live. But unfortunately our region has a history of not willingly or gladly accepting what the federal government sometimes forces our region to do.”

Graham outlined how the state’s LGBT community needs to prepare for that backlash should the Supreme Court rule in favor of marriage equality, including encouraging conversation among those who may not agree with same-sex marriage, being public about your relationship by doing things like submitting wedding photos to the local paper, being active and attending rallies, joining the fight against so-called “religious freedom” bills and doing outreach outside of Atlanta.

Graham also said the community needs to let people evolve, citing the criticism President Obama and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed got before they came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

“This is what winning with grace looks like,” Graham said. “We have to give people the opportunity to change their opinions.”

Rev. Teague also called on people to engage with the faith community as the Supreme Court’s decision nears.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders