Reinforcements are on the way.
The rescue signal that LGBT Georgians have been waiting on for 11 years finally glistened this month when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider cases that will determine whether same-sex marriage is a nationwide right.
The alternative, that the justices will cement the two-tiered landscape of equality states and inequality states, seems unfathomable given the breathless trends in American culture and judicial opinion. There remains the possibility of an unfavorable ruling or the court artlessly using legal technicalities to dodge the central question, but it’s hard not to feel hopeful and relieved.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision has always been the most obvious slayer of our state’s constitutional amendment against same-sex matrimony. Admirable work has been done to try to nullify the effects of the marriage ban, both by activists and by everyday couples who returned from destination weddings to broaden the realm of fairness in their communities—but I am among the majority of queer Georgians who have taken comfort in knowing we would eventually be saved by Uncle Sam and the Notorious R.B.G. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg).
It will not be a total rescue, particularly for the many LGBT Georgians for whom marriage isn’t a primary concern. But not even the most sweeping court opinion will shield every LGBT Georgian from the inevitable battles that will follow, or the challenges we’ll face before the justices rule.
Organizations that exist solely to deny choice to women and equality to LGBT Americans have swooped into Atlanta to join Republican lawmakers in a fiery defense of “religious liberty.” The termination of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kevin Cochran is a boon to their cause and their coffers, and I expect them to treat Georgia as the last stand for righteousness against the gathering flames of Sodom.
If Atlanta’s fire chief were an atheist who self-published a book suggesting that all believers were delusional and borderline brain-dead, then distributed his prose to subordinates, some of whom might be people of faith, no Republican would prop him up as a victim of unholy political correctness. He would also have no god to hide behind, as Cochran has repeatedly done in his defense of writing that gay people were “vile,” a “perversion” and the definition of “uncleanness.”
Cochran deserved to be fired, as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said, because of his poor judgment, regardless of his religious views. He continues to be oblivious of how vile, hurtful and inappropriate his proselytizing was, but rather rolls up his sleeves to join Michael Bowers, Sam Nunn and other Georgia public officials who have stoutly upheld the walls of anti-gay bigotry.
Last year, LGBT Georgians defeated a “religious liberty” bill similar to the one that Cochran will be the poster boy for this session, but that victory benefited from the national progressive backlash against an identical proposal in Arizona.
This year, it’s all about Georgia. This time, it’s all up to us.
We need to be mindful that Mayor Reed may have foregone his well-known desire for a statewide office by boldly advocating on our behalf, and explore ways to reinforce him as an ally. His courage deserves us to be fully engaged in this struggle, in our own struggle.
It’s a struggle to affirm our dignity at the state capitol, and in conversations with mainstream Christians who widely share Cochran’s biblical interpretation, no matter how much they love their gay best friend or transgender sibling. It’s a struggle not to shrug off the political abuse we endure as an expected cost of being LGBT in Georgia, and not be content with waiting to be rescued.
Because Ruth Bader Ginsburg can’t save us from everything.
Ryan Lee is an Atlanta writer.