'Let people ... love who they choose'
While the Georgia constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage was approved overwhelmingly by voters a little less than a decade ago – three out of four Georgia voters favored the amendment – now, many locals are changing their tune.
While the issue is still divisive, many local people applauded Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. “Let people live their lives and love who they choose,” said Kat Rivers of Senoia.
There is “too much hate in this world,” Rivers added. “Let people be happy and enjoy love wherever they may find it.”
“I am a very conservative person, yet I have no issue with this ruling at all,” said Kerri Hill Smith of Newnan. “I am a firm believer in ‘you stay out of my personal business, I will stay out of yours.’ However, I do believe that if you spend all of your adult life with one person that happens to be the same sex as you, and you have lived the life of spouses, then you should be afforded the same benefits as everyone else.”
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was quick to point out that the Supreme Court’s decisions will not have an immediate direct effect in Georgia.
“The decision does not affect existing state definitions of marriage,” Olens said in a statement issued Wednesday. “In fact, it explicitly says that it is limited to marriages recognized by states as lawful. I agree with the Chief Justice that this limitation means what it says. The definition of marriage adopted by Georgia’s voters is unaffected by today’s decision.”
Many Cowetans still see that as a good thing.
“I oppose same-sex marriage because I believe that the Bible teaches against such practices, and the Bible is the standard by which I choose to live my life,” said local artist Ginger-Lou Fulton. “I don’t agree with same-sex marriage. I didn’t used to agree with it and I have not changed my mind.”
“God says love the person, hate the sin… but we do not have to change our laws,” said Barbara Pruitt. “Our founding fathers based this country on God. If we don’t turn back to him we will lose everything. Sadly, we are well on our way.”
Sandra Beckom Lee, who was raised as a Pentecostal in Newnan, said she used to feel that way, but life events forced her to re-examine many of her beliefs.
“I have a daughter who is gay,” said Lee. “She didn’t choose to be. She was born that way. I happen to know that because I was there.”
Lee said it’s been a long journey for her, emotionally and intellectually.
“First off, I don’t get it, and my daughter knows that. I was raised Pentecostal, so it is definitely against any moral ground that I was raised with,” Lee said.
It has not been easy for her to get acclimated to the concept of people being gay.
“However, I love my daughter enough to take this journey with her, to be her cheerleader when she needed one, and her soft place to fall when she needed that, as well,” Lee said.
“I have gone from ‘Eewww... gross’ and ‘you are going to burn in hell’ to loving my daughter-in-law as much as my daughter.” Lee said that the issue of gay marriage “should not have anything at all to do with your religion.”
Her shift in opinion “has not changed the relationship I have with my God,” she said.
“This issue should be tried and judged based on law. If you get married (and) you choose a religious ceremony, that portion of your marriage is not necessary for you to be legally married. The legality is that you have to apply for a license and be granted one by a judge,” Lee said. “There are no other licenses in this country that you have to pray over before the judicial system issues them.”
Gary W. Arnold, a pastor at Lake Oconee Community Church who is in a long-term, committed same-sex relationship and who worked at a Newnan church for a number of years in the mid-1980s, agrees that marriage is “first a civil function, and only that.”
That often gets forgotten, Arnold said. “I believe that one of the huge issues in all of this is that our country has forgotten that,” he said.
“If you choose to overlay a particular religious or spiritual reality above or around it, fine. You have the freedom to do so,” Arnold said.
“All of this rhetoric around God and Jesus and marriage really has nothing to do with it,” said Arnold. “In all previous, and in some legalistic cultures today, anything that did not bear offspring, or hindered that in any way was deemed unholy.”
Arnold said “Jesus and Country” are concepts that “have become so intertwined that folks have no clarity as to where one ends or one begins.”
Historically the Bible “was used to keep the world flat, women from the polling place, people of color on the other side of the tracks, divorced people out of church, gay people out of view and, of course, in this country anyone other than Christians in the box of evil,” Arnold said. “Oh, how soon we forget.”
Lee said she has changed just as the country seems to have changed during the past decade.
“I no longer believe that it will completely destroy the wonderful beliefs that I was born and raised with and still carry today,” said Lee. “Any minister that does not feel comfortable performing these ceremonies shouldn’t. Those ceremonies are not necessary for gay people to be legally married.”
Lee said she is “so tired of hearing certain statements such as: Let people love who they want to... Stay out of other people’s business... God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. None of those statements pertain to what, I believe, my daughter and others who are traveling this road are looking for.
“My daughter has never asked permission to love anyone. The government is in everyone’s business, and the legality of a license has nothing to do with God, Adam or Steve,” she said.
“I am happy with the Supreme Court’s decision.”