The story of same-sex marriage in Georgia has long resembled a falling tree in an empty forest. If a wrong is committed against an entity that doesn’t exist, has any injustice occurred?

The state’s formal prohibition of gay marriage started six months before the federal Defense of Marriage Act, both pre-dating the 1996 ruling by a Hawaiian court that served as America’s introduction to the idea of two bride figurines atop a wedding cake.

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Not a single gay or lesbian couple had been legally married in the United States when Georgia legislators amplified their bigotry by passing a constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex relationships in April 2004. “Gay marriage” was an abstract concept in America until such unions became valid in Massachusetts in May 2004, and it’s retained its intangible aura in Georgia and other states where it is outlawed.

This philosophical nature of gay marriage numbed a bit of the indignity of waking up and learning that 76 percent of your neighbors, co-workers and fellow Georgians had enshrined their antipathy for you and/or your lifestyle into the state’s constitution. At least we lost what we already
didn’t have.

But the benign prejudice that has always been expected and accepted in Georgia inflicted trauma upon LGBT residents in 1996 and 2004, no matter how imaginary or distant same-sex marriage felt ― and remains. A decade later, with DOMA exposed as unconstitutional and the first circle of the marriage equality movement closed in Hawaii, that injustice is increasingly audible.

“PERSONS IN A SAME-SEX marriage who can now file a Federal [tax] return using married filing jointly or married filing separately status must continue to file Georgia returns using the single filing status.”

Those words were typed on a government computer, printed on letterhead masted by the seal of the state of Georgia, and presented as a homophobic decree by the state Department of Revenue in October. The three-page advisory used politely technical language to inform gay and lesbian couples who have been married in other states: Uncle Sam and the IRS might be toasting two grooms, but ain’t nothing changed in Georgia. Your love means nothing here. It is worthless, and especially unworthy of recognition by your government.

The tax policy is one of the first of what will be many edicts that bring to life a prohibition that had been comfortably buried in a state constitution that few Georgia residents, gay or straight, have ever read or contemplated. Discrimination that has been tolerated because it seemed theoretical is now creating hierarchies of citizenship in Georgia, where some gay and lesbian relationships enjoy parity with gold-standard heterosexuals on the federal level, but none have equality at home.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA this summer, I was at a seminar with legal professionals and someone predicted a domestic landscape that is similar to U.S. military posts in foreign countries with regressive policies toward women. The hypothetical of married gay soldiers being full citizens while on base, then bound by local customs and restrictions when off-premises, is a legal reality in the Peach State now that Georgia is fully compliant with Department of Defense’s post-DOMA policies.

This year’s advancements of the marriage equality frontline have drawn two Georgias, and two Americas.

The everyday expression of most LGBT Georgians is not as dire as the codified intolerance suggests, and so it is risky to note similarities with broader forms of state-sanctioned inequality. However, when I read the Georgia Department of Revenue’s “Informational Bulletin IT-2013-10-25,” I hear legislative echoes of Jim Crow and apartheid.

Nelson Mandela’s suffering and perseverance were incomparable, as remains the breadth of racial discrimination in our own country. In conquering inhumanity, Mandela freed himself and his country, and offered hope and fellowship to those who are oppressed physically, politically and spiritually.

As the world mourns the greatest liberator of our time, there can be false comfort in the distance since apartheid’s demise. Many folks assume that they would never participate in such a scheme, convinced that they would rebel against a government for the people, by the people telling a group that they are less equal than their neighbors.

That’s a very American pretense. Ain’t no pretense in Georgia. We put out bulletins to make sure everybody know our homos are second-class.

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