Area politicians and religious leaders vowed to continue the fight against gay marriage, despite Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act in a 5-4 decision.
The ruling sets the stage, in some states, for same-sex couples to receive the same rights and benefits from the government and their employers that are available to heterosexual marriage partners, which local civil rights lawyers and young Democrats say is a trend that will have to be addressed in Georgia.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who represented Georgia in Congress from 1995 to 2003, authored and sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman.
Barr, who will be running for U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey’s 11th Congressional District seat in 2014, stands by this traditional view of marriage.
“I personally believe marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman and, if it were on the ballot in Georgia, I’d vote that way,” Barr said.
Barr has recently limited his support of the act, saying an overarching federal declaration about marriage rights violates powers given by the Constitution to individual states.
“I trust the judgment of the people of Georgia more than that of Washington, D.C.,” he said.
State fight brewing?
While the Supreme Court’s ruling prohibits the federal government from barring same-sex marriage, it also emphasizes that the individual states should be the final arbiter in how marriage is defined.
Johnathon Murphy of the North Georgia Rainbow Coalition said the ruling was not surprising, but still “an enormous victory” that gives equal justice under the federal law.
“The work is just beginning on a state level,” Murphy said.
The Georgia Republican Party issued a statement Wednesday that it would continue to “promote, protect, and preserve traditional marriage for future generations.”
Chairman John Padgett said it is an issue worth fighting for because “marriage is a sacred institution created by God, not by the federal government.”
The Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta, Wilton Gregory, also released a statement Wednesday about the severe implications of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance,” Gregory said.
Gregory said the Catholic Church will continue to teach that marriage is “a lifelong, exclusive, and fruitful communion of one man and one woman.”
Young Republicans weigh in
Joe Pettit, chairman of the Cobb County Young Republicans, who lives in Vinings, said his charter has no specific stance on gay marriage.
Pettit said the diversity of the more than 50 individuals that comprises the group ranges from individuals that are very socially conservative to more libertarian-minded.
“Young people as a whole are more of a ‘stay out of my personal life, stay out of my pocket book’ attitude,” Pettit said.
Pettit said that although Wednesday’s ruling was based on a fight for insurance coverage, tax status and medical benefits, he does not see gay marriage as a fiscal issue.
He said the Cobb County Young Republicans are more focused on the “extremely bad example” the federal government has set in incurring debt, and the importance of debt and deficit reduction.
Representing the other side of the area’s young professionals, from 18 to 41, is the Young Democrats of Cobb County.
President of the Young Democrats of Cobb County, Tiffany Fannin, who lives in Austell, said the Supreme Court’s decision is a great step toward equality and hopes Georgia will legalize gay marriage.
“(It) will allow for other states to take the needed step to jump into the same position,” Fannin said.
Fannin said she believes there is a trend of accepting gay rights by younger generations and that “lawmakers are starting to get on board.”
Possible future implications
With the Supreme Court ruling individual states can still choose whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, the decision protects Georgia’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Civil rights attorney Carrie Fiedler, who opened the Fiedler & Associates firm at 191 Roswell St. almost five years ago, said Georgia will have to address gay marriage as couples from other states move to the area.
She said custody issues and divorces will be litigated in Georgia courts that will have to decide the legitimacy of same-sex unions the federal government will now be recognizing.
“People are living as (non-traditional) families and they need to be treated by the law as families,” Fiedler said.
She said the end result for each state could be more of a middle ground on the issue.
This compromised position could impact local businesses through the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows loved ones to request time off from their job to care for a sick family member.
Wednesday’s ruling will impact people’s lives that are facing specific situations, such as a person’s medical treatment or after-death care being decided on by a same-sex partner, or a same-sex couple having more access to adopting a child, Fiedler said.
“The modern version of what we determine to be a family is different than a traditional version,” Fiedler said.