Is Same Sex Marriage Legal in Georgia?

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We have come a long way in the past couple of decades when it comes to recognizing the rights of minorities, so perhaps you are wondering “is gay marriage legal in Georgia?” and want to learn more about the matter. Historically, Georgia was one of the 14 U.S. states to oppose same-sex legal unions for years, even though it was widely adopted in most of the country by 2014. 

 

The outcome

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. […] They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right” states Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his plea for the country-wide legalization of same-sex marriages in 2015. 

According to the ruling, all fifty states of the United States of America must adhere to the new law, and allow same-sex partners to legally officiate their union and, therefore, become a family in the eyes of God and the law. However, reaching this outcome hasn’t come easy. 

To that point, Georgia’s Constitution made it illegal not only to perform but also to recognize gay marriages, and the state’s attorney general even petitioned the High Court to allow Georgia’s ban to stand. 

 

History

Same-sex marriages have been in the public eye and agenda of discussions for about two decades, but little has been made to legalize the union until the first years of the 2000s. 

According to a 2004 referendum, 76% of Georgia voters were against same-sex marriage. As shocking as it may sound, the number is similar to what it was encountered country-wide, especially in historically more conservative areas like the South and the Midwest. 

The referendum was for one of the state’s amendments in the constitution stating that Georgia only recognized the marriage between a man and a woman and that marriages between people of the same gender are prohibited by the state. Although the amendment was challenged in court in 2006, it remained effective until the decision of the Supreme Court in 2015. 

But, as recent history states, the decision was not widely welcomed with applause. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the legendary case of Obergefell v. Hodges that the marriage between two people of the same sex is legal and that, in their case, the marriage performed out-of-state should be recognized by all states. The ruling effectively legalized gay marriage across the country, including in Georgia. 

However, the state, together with other federal states, filed a brief with the Supreme Court appealing the ruling. The appeal was rejected but this doesn’t mean that it changed much the public opinion of the people from Georgia.

In fact, according to annual polling conducted by Gallup in the past three years (2017, 2018, and 2019), nation-wide, two-thirds of the Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage. 

The only states that still oppose the law by majority or close to the majority remain Georgia and Alabama. In Georgia, up to 59% of the adult population still claims that gay marriages should not be performed. However, cities like the state’s capital, Atlanta, tend to be less conservative. 

 

LGBTQ rights in Georgia

Despite being adamant against change, same-sex sexual activities have been legal in Georgy as early as 1998. Atlanta hosts a vibrant LGBTQ community and is known to hold one of the country’s biggest annual pride parades. 

Even before the 2015 Supreme Court decision, some cities and counties across the state provided domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, granting them some of the marriage rights. As opposed to other states where domestic partnerships were not recognized, same-sex partnerships in George were legal in Athens, Atlanta, Savannah, and other cities and counties. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to recognizing other gay rights, Georgia falls behind. In February 2018, the Georgia State Senate passed an act named “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care”, that allowed private adoption agencies beneficiaries of state funds to deny adoptions based on religious beliefs to some individual parents and couples. 

Opponents claimed that the bill targeted gay couples and members of the LGBTQ community who were looking to adopt. Eventually, the bill wasn’t voted, but this doesn’t mean that the door is closed for further similar bills that are looking for loopholes in the state laws to push conservatory agendas. 

It wasn’t until March 2018 that Governor Nathan Deal had to sign into law a bill that grants the same adoption rights for same-sex partners as heterosexual couples. We should also mention that the law also applies to IVF procedures and surrogacy, meaning same-sex couples can opt for any of these choices if they’re looking to form a family. 

 

Discrimination

Another field where Georgia state laws fail to protect individuals from the LGBTQ community is employment rights. Unlike most other states across the country that provide some level of protection for all citizens, Georgia law doesn’t protect employees against employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. 

The good news is that some cities and counties issued their laws regarding minority employment rights, including Atlanta, Doraville, and Clarkson. These cities have ordinances that ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in both private and public employment. 

Other cities have enacted limited protections, suitable for public municipal employees only, including Athens, Decatur, Columbus, Augusta, and Savannah. Nonetheless, discrimination remains on the table until official state laws will cover the rights of both non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

 

Anti-bullying and hate crime laws

Georgia law bans bullying at school without listing individual protected groups, which means that children who feel discriminated against or bullied based on their sexual orientation or gender identity can press charges against the offenders. 

Fulton County and DeKalb County have certain regulations for teachers addressing bullying and harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation, while the Gwinnett County Public schools ban student discrimination based on these criteria, according to their Student Conduct Behavior Code. 

As far as hate crimes go, there are currently no laws that cover gender identity and sexual orientation banned by the state of Georgia, although various bills have been sent for acceptance in the State Senate in the past few years. 

Addressing the transgender community, the current laws in Georgia allow post-operative gender people to legally change their birth certificates according to the reassigned sex and be addressed accordingly. However, the law specifically states that only individuals who have gone through gender reassignment surgery can change their birth certificates. 

For a state with such conservative views, Georgia has gone a long way since the early 2000s. 

 

Conversion therapy and blood donation

Conversion therapy has been used for decades against gay people in an attempt to “rewire” their sexual preferences toward the opposite sex. The practice has been blamed as not only being inhumane but also as a dangerous attempt to a human’s fundamental rights. 

Even so, few states chose to ban the practice, but Georgia is not one of them. This means that parents or legal guardians willingly submitting their children to conversion therapy in an attempt to change their sexual preferences are not punished by the law. However, the practice has been condemned on numerous occasions and is rarely used any longer. 

As far as the gay rights to donate blood, the MSMs have been allowing members of the community to donate blood since 2015, as long as they can prove they have a one year deferral period, according to the federal policy. In other words, gay people who haven’t had intercourse in over one year are allowed to donate blood. 

Unfortunately, the law remains highly controversial, to say the least if not completely biased since it is based on false correlations made in the 1980s where it was believed that HIV/AIDS was a disease solely spread in the homosexual community. 

 

Conclusion

Although legal in all 50 states, gay marriage still faces backlashes from the ultra-conservative communities across the country. Georgia was one of the 15 states that tried to ban the union between same-sex partners even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, putting an end to the controversy regarding gay unions. 

As of 2015, all same-sex marriages officiated in Georgia and outside the state are considered legal by the laws of Georgia, with partners benefiting from the same rights as any other heterosexual couple, including in fields like taxation, name changing, any other legal matters, as well as adoption. 

Georgia law allows same-sex couples and gay individuals to adopt children or attempt to start a family through surrogacy and IVF procedures, similar to other heterosexual people. However, the laws suggest you should refrain from making procedures to legally adopt a child from a country that doesn’t accept civil unions and marriages between same-sex partners.