PHOTOS: Georgians call for the freedom to marry in the Peach State with GA Equality

Today, October 23, 2014, Georgia Equality hosted a rally in Atlanta on the steps of the Atlanta City Hall calling for the freedom to marry in the Peach State. The event came just one day after Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens filed his reply brief in a federal legal case seeking marriage in the state (Inniss v. Aderhold, led by Lambda Legal). In the brief, AG Olens urged the court to dismiss the case, ignoring the thousands of same-sex couples living in Georgia who need the freedom to marry and respect for their legal marriages.

Freedom to Marry is proud to have partnered with Georgia Equality on this event, one of the largest rallies for the freedom to marry ever in Georgia. Freedom to Marry has been working with Georgia Equality this year through Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a coalition of more than a dozen state and regional organizations dedicated to winning the freedom to marry nationwide. 

Same-sex couples, people of faith, local elected officials, and more than a hundred marriage supporters in the state joined together with Georgia Equality to make the point loud and clear that Georgia is ready for marriage. Here are some highlights from the event:

Faith Leaders Fight for Fairness in GA

The first speaker at the event was Reverend Joshua Noblitt (left), a minister of Social Justice and Evangelism at St. Mark United Methodist Church.

Rev. Noblitt spoke out about why his faith compels him to support the freedom to marry for all families. He explained, "At our church’s core is promoting love and truth, values that should extend beyond just our place of worship and the gospels but across Georgia and America."

Later in the rally, Rev. Duncan Teague, a Unitarian Minister, added, "We have this chance - in light of blatant discrimination - to stand on our faiths and our beliefs in the basic equality of all people."

Rev. Teague shared his personal story on why marriage matters, too. He explained more about his loving, committed relationship with his partner of 21 years (and husband of 11), David Thurman. He said, "Our equality, our citizenship, and our humanity were affirmed in Canada and now more than 30 other states, and some of our legitimate rights as a married couple are affirmed by the United States federal government, but not by our home state of Georgia."

Georgia Elected Officials Call for an End to Marriage Discrimination

Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves (above) and Mayor Kathy de Nobriga of Pine Lake, Georgia (below) also spoke out on why marriage matters to all families.

Eaves, Chairman of Fulton County, the most populous county in Georgia, spoke about his strong support for the freedom to marry and discussed how important it is for Georgians across the state to embrace marriage for all families. "Georgia is a great place to raise a family," he said. "But we can - and we must - do better." He also spoke intimately about the way he learned the power of marriage: From his grandparents, who shared a beautiful, committed marriage for more than 70 years. Check out video from his speech:

Mayor Kathy de Nobriga called on mayors from across the state of Georgia to come together in support of fundamental fairness for all. She spoke about her role as one of several mayors from Georgia who are Mayors from the Freedom to Marry, a bipartisan coalition from Freedom to Marry that highlights supportive mayors. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is one of the co-chairs of the campaign, which now boasts more than 500 supportive mayors from nearly every state in the country. Mayor de Nobriga called on attendees to urge their mayor to support marriage - You can do that here, with our Light Up the Map tool. 

Mayor de Nobriga also discussed her own marriage to her wife before calling on Attorney General Olens to stop defending something that is so clearly wrong. "Show courage and dignity," she said, addressing AG Olens. "Drop this defense. Love will prevail. Fairness will prevail."

A Father of 3 Wants his Son to Have the Same Freedom to Marry as His 2 Daughters

David Stivers, co-president of PFLAG Atlanta, was also at the rally with his wife of more than 30 years, Tori. He spoke about his son, who is gay. "Georgia constitutionally forbids him from marrying the person he loves," David said. "As his father, I can’t understand why."

"Someday, I would very much like to attend my son’s wedding and throw a lavish party for him and the person he loves, just as I did for my two daughters," he added. "I hope Georgia will allow me to do that in the very near future."

You can read David's full speech HERE. 

Bipartisan Support for Marriage in GA

James Richardson, the former spokesman for the Republican National Committee and Governors Barbour and Huntsman, also joined the rally to share why his conservative values compel him to support the freedom to marry.

He explained that six out of ten young conservative activists say they support the freedom to marry - and that increasingly, Republicans who do not support equality for all are out-of-step with the next generation of voters. 

"This is my generation, [Attorney General] Olens. This is the generation to whom you'll be answering when you next serve office. This is the massive bloc of conservative voters who will determine if you get that next promotion and we won’t easily forget your actions today." Richardson explained. 

Earlier this year, James came out as gay and appealed to the Republican Party to support the freedom to marry and stop holding same-sex couples back. Read the op-ed in The Washington Post here.

Same-Sex Couples Share Their Stories

Three same-sex couples spoke at the rally, sharing their personal stories and hopes for the future of the freedom to marry in Georgia. 

"No one wants to be told it’s illegal to marry the person you love, including us. That hurts." - Larry Carter

"We pray that someday soon, the state we love will stop denying us of our happily ever after," Larry and Nolan Carter said at the podium. Nolan is an accountant studying to become a CPA now, and Larry is a third grade teacher. Several of his students were in attendance, along with their parents. 

"We plead with Attorney General Olens to help make that happen quicker." Larry and Nolan have been together since 2007, and nearly one year ago, on November 11, they said "I do" in front of all of their friends and family members right in Atlanta. The next day, however, they had to fly to Washington, D.C. in order to legally marry and ensure that, at least on a federal level, they could protect each other as husbands.

"All we’re asking for is to be treated like anyone else," the men added. "It’s as simple as the Golden Rule – treating others as you would want to be treated. No one wants to be told it’s illegal to marry the person you love, including us. That hurts."

Read more about Larry and Nolan, who shared their story with Freedom to Marry last year, here, and watch video from their speech, from the Georgia Voice:

Next up were Satyam Barakoti and Tonja Holder, who brought their young daughter. 

"Why does marriage matter? What does it really mean? For our family, it meant everything." - Tonja Holder

"Why does marriage matter? What does it really mean?" Tonja asked. "For our family, it meant everything. When the Supreme Court overruled DOMA last June, our lives changed forever. It meant that instead of leaving our home and our country, our marriage would be federally recognized and that I could sponsor my wife in the immigration system. It meant we could stay here, in Georgia, running our small business."

And yet, as great as the DOMA ruling was for Satyam and Tonja, they're still not respected in their home state of Georgia. And without that, they still are not as protected and respected as every other married same-sex couple in Georgia.

"In 32 states, our daughter would have the stability and protection of growing up with married parents," Tonja added. "Sadly, Georgia isn’t one of those states – yet." 

Read more about Satyam and Tonja, who shared their story with Freedom to Marry last year, here

The last couple to speak was Bill Whitaker and Matthew Malok, who have been together for more than 40 years. 

"Bill and I have talked about whether we should leave a state that denies us the fundamental freedom to marry, when there are so many that would not treat as equal," Matthew said. "At our age, we are specifically concerned about how Georgia’s anti-marriage laws will affect important programs like Social Security and Estate Planning. And while we were able to file federal taxes as a married couple this year, we had to prepare separate returns for state taxes since our marriage is not recognized in Georgia. The whole process seems so ridiculous, burdensome, and insulting. All we’re asking for is to be treated equally by our state government – nothing more, nothing less."

Still, Bill and Matthew love Georgia - it's their home. "Why should we be forced to leave the home we love in order to be treated like a married couple? It just doesn’t make sense to us."

Read more about Bill and Matthew, who shared their story with Freedom to Marry last year, here.

More about the Georgia Legal Case:

The case discussed today is Inniss v. Aderhold, filed earlier this year by the national legal group Lambda Legal and pro-bono counsel from Bryan Cave and White & Case seeking the freedom to marry in the Peach State. Named plaintiffs Shelton Stroman and Christopher Inniss attended the rally and cheered on all of the speakers and supporters who had come out for the big day. 

The plaintiffs in the case include three same-sex couples who wish to marry in Georgia (as well as one married couple seeking respect in Georgia) - including Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman (abvove), who are raising a 9-year-old and have been together for 13 years; Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler, police officers from Atlanta together for nearly three years; Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas, who are raising two children after seven years together. Additionally, plaintiff Jennifer Sisson, a widow who lost her wife Pamela Drenner last year, is suing after Georgia state officials denied respect for the women's marriage for the purpose of listing Jennifer on Pam's death certificate.

Read more about the case here.