Dozens of same-sex couples, their children, clergy wearing rainbow-colored stoles, and people carrying two large rainbow flags waving in the cool wind, all gathered behind a podium on the steps of Atlanta City Hall to put a real face on who the discriminatory same-sex marriage ban is hurting.
The rally, taking place across the street from where Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens’ office is located, attracted some 150 people, according to organizers with Georgia Equality and Freedom to Marry.
Ten years ago, Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between only a man and a woman. Earlier this year, Lambda Legal, a nonprofit LGBT legal organization, filed a federal lawsuit against the state seeking to overturn the ban. On Wednesday, Olens submitted his second motion to dismiss the lawsuit, stating in the brief, “The right to marry is, of course, a fundamental right. But that right has never previously been understood as extending to same-sex couples.”
Olens is seeking re-election on Nov. 4 and is facing Democratic challenger Greg Hecht. Hecht is an outspoken advocate for marriage equality and promises to not defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban because he says it is unconstitutional. Hecht is also endorsed by Georgia Equality.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham began the rally with an impassioned speech and letting Olens know his arguments in his defense are wrong and unjust.
“In nearly 50 rulings, from judges throughout the country, the U.S. judicial system couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Olens and his position,” Graham said. Same-sex marriage is legal in 32 states and will likely be legal in 35 states in the coming weeks, he added.
Graham said 14 attorneys general across the country have abandoned defending their states’ gay marriage bans because they believe the bans to be unconstitutional; four of them are Republican. The attorneys general are in states including Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Kentucky.
“There is no reason why Sam Olens should not drop his defense. That is why we must do everything in our power to send a message to leadership of this state that this is one area where Georgia cannot afford to be last,” said Graham. “This is about family; this is about family values.”
In Georgia, 300 attorneys have signed on to say they support marriage equality for the state. A recent study showed that the same-sex marriage ban is costing Georgia nearly $80 million as well as the opportunity to create 1,000 jobs by now allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Rev. Joshua Noblitt, minister of social justice and evangelism at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, said being able to marry the person you love is about love and fairness.
Fulton County Commission Chair, up for re-election on Nov. 4, spoke at the rally and touted his coming out in support for marriage equality four years ago when it wasn’t that popular. Other politicians attending the rally and who support marriage equality were state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), also up for re-election; and Atlanta City Councilmember Mary Norwood.
Larry Carter and Antoine Nolan Carter, who married each other Nov. 11, 2013, in Buckhead and then got legally married in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 12, 2013, say they just want their relationship to be legally recognized in the state they fell in love in, the state where they live, work and pay taxes.
“We want to make our life here,” Larry Carter said.
Georgia doesn’t recognize their relationship and instead looks at them as though they are strangers to each other, or just roommates, added Antoine Nolan Carter.
“We’re singled out and excluded from more than 1,000 beneifts and responsibilities available to married couples. All we’re asking is to be treated like everyone else,” he said. “It’s time for Georgia to stop its discrimination, stop wasting taxpayer money and get on the right side of history.”
Former GOP spokesperson James Richardson, who is gay, also spoke at the rally, using the words of Ronald Reagan to try to appeal to Olens’ conservative values and convince him to quit defending the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Read that story by clicking here.
A spokesperson for Olens has said in the past that Olens is obligated to defend all of Georgia’s laws.
Where same-sex marriage is legal
District of Columbia: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Where same-sex marriage is banned
Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.
States where judges have ruled same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional but their rulings have been stayed: Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas.