The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Friday that same-sex couples can marry nationwide has, at least on the surface, drawn little reaction in Bryan County.
“I don’t think anybody is going to rush to any kind of judgment or draw any lines in the sand. Maybe I’m wrong,” said state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, whose district includes Bryan County.
While local leaders offered few comments, the county government is complying with the Supreme Court ruling.
The new marriage applications specifically for same-sex couples are available from Bryan County Probate Court. The office has received “several phone calls” in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, according to Probate Judge Sam Davis.
However, as of Wednesday, no same-sex couples had gone to the Bryan County probate office for a marriage license.
“All I can say is, we’re ready,” Davis said. “We’ll follow the law. If someone comes by for a same-sex marriage license, we’ll issue it to them.”
Meanwhile, the county is ready to extend benefits to same-sex married couples.
“With the Supreme Court ruling, same-sex legally married couples would be entitled to the same benefits as a male-and-female, legally married couple,” County Administrator Ben Taylor said.
Similarly, the Georgia Department of Veterans Service released a statement Friday that it “will continue to serve all veterans and their families in pursuit of their earned benefits under applicable federal and state laws. Regarding spousal benefits, the GDVS will work to see that all legally married couples receive their rightful benefits.”
Bryan County NAACP President Dave Williams did not comment on behalf of the organization, which at the state and national levels has supported same-sex marriage. However, Williams did share his personal viewpoint that he is “glad” the court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
“It says what a great country we live in that we have the freedoms to believe in whatever we want,” Williams said. “I may not agree with their beliefs, but it would be wrong of me to ask for the freedoms of some and not for others.”
The Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on any potential economic impact that could result from the gay-marriage ruling, such as an increase in the sales of wedding cakes or rentals of facilities to hold ceremonies. On the flip side, business owners could cite their religious beliefs in refusing service to gay customers.
Watson sees that matter playing out in the free market.
“Probably, economics will drive that more than religious convictions,” Watson opined. “If a private business doesn’t want to do that, then they’ll lose business.”
While Watson acknowledged that Georgia will abide by the Supreme Court’s decision, he also said he expects the “religious-liberty aspect” to be discussed when the Legislature convenes in January. Lawmakers could draft legislation protecting churches that don’t support gay marriage — Watson cited Catholic and Southern Baptist churches as examples — from having to perform those ceremonies.
“I don’t think anyone would want to perform that if that’s against their religious convictions,” Taylor said.
One local religious leader who did weigh in was Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of the Diocese of Savannah. Hartmayer stated that the high-court ruling in no way changes the Catholic Church’s steadfast view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“This decision of the Supreme Court is primarily a declaration of civil rights and not a redefinition of marriage as the church teaches,” Hartmayer said in a statement to the media.
However, the bishop pointed out that “the moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another — especially those with whom we may disagree.” He said civil discourse must prevail among people of opposing viewpoints.
“This judgment does not dispense either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another,” Hartmayer said. “Nor is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions differ from our own.”