In con­ser­va­tive South, re­ac­tion to rul­ing is mixed

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Tina Sus­man

NASHVILLE — Bleu Copas, a gay Army vet­eran, watched in dis­may nine years ago as his state voted over­whelm­ingly in fa­vor of a ban on same- sex mar­riage. The mo­men­tum gain­ing strength in other parts of the coun­try seemed to pass Ten­nessee by.

On Fri­day, though, the le­gal tide that has opened the doors of mar­riage to same­sex cou­ples across the coun­try broke through the re­gion’s deep strain of con­ser­vatism, as the Supreme Court de­clared same- sex mar­riage a con­sti­tu­tional right in all 50 states. The rul­ing quickly put peo­ple such as Copas at odds with tra­di­tion­al­ists, who vowed to f ight or at least try to de­lay what is now the law of the land.

From Texas to Ten­nessee and in sev­eral Mid­west­ern states that had same- sex mar­riage bans in place, the court’s rul­ing was seen by many as a move to de­prive states of the right to de­ter­mine their fates. Nowhere does that feel­ing sting as sharply as in the deep South, where con­ser­va­tives al­ready this week were fac­ing chal­lenges to the Con­fed­er­ate f lag and to their at­tempts, along with oth­ers across the coun­try, to scale back the adop­tion of na­tional healthcare re­form.

“This is the worst by far of those de­ci­sions,” said Matt Kidd, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Foun­da­tion for Moral Law in Alabama, which has fought same- sex mar­riage. “I think there is prob­a­bly noth­ing that is more of a build­ing block of our com­mu­ni­ties than fam­ily and mar­riage. The com­mu­ni­ties, and the fam­i­lies in our com­mu­ni­ties, have to be able to set their own stan­dards.”

Alabama Gov. Robert Bent­ley said that he dis­agreed with the rul­ing but that his state would up­hold the law. His grudg­ing ac­cep­tance of the court’s deci- sion was echoed by of­fi­cials in most of the 13 states with same- sex mar­riage bans on the books. They in­cluded the non- South­ern states of Michigan, Ohio, Ne­braska and the Dako­tas.

In Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi, and Texas, though, gover­nors and at­tor­neys gen­eral made it clear that they were not will­ing to give up the fight, and their words led to con­fu­sion as cou­ples rushed to get mar­riage li­censes only to en­counter court clerks who were un­sure of what to do.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal, a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who is also a Catholic, said that mar­riage “was es­tab­lished by God, and no earthly court can al­ter that.”

Even in Ten­nessee, where the at­tor­ney gen­eral said he would abide by the new law, there were ob­sta­cles.

Copas, who was kicked out of the Army in 2006 for be­ing gay, left work as soon as he saw news of the Supreme Court rul­ing. His first stop was to pick up his f iance, Ricky Shaw, at their Knoxville home. Then it was on to the county clerk’s of­fice for what they hoped would be the is­suance of their mar­riage li­cense.

“I am elated,” Copas said min­utes af­ter the rul­ing was an­nounced. “To be hon­est, in this mo­ment I feel more Amer­i­can than I’ve ever felt.”

A few hours later, though, Copas and Shaw had given up. The court clerks said they were wait­ing for in­struc­tions on whether to is­sue mar­riage li­censes. Some said they would not is­sue any un­til July 1.

“We were dis­cour­aged and just went to get lunch,” said Copas, who planned to try again Mon­day. In Michigan, Zachary Waas­dorp and Colby Touchin en­coun­tered no such re­sis­tance. Even if they had, the cou­ple had some ex­pe­ri­ence at the al­tar. Two years ago, Waas­dorp and Touchin had been so cer­tain that same- sex wed­dings would be le­gal in their state that they sched­uled their wed­ding cer­e­mony for June 20, 2015.

They held the cer­e­mony— mi­nus the li­cense— and on Fri­day, they made their way to the court­house to be f irst in line for a mar­riage li­cense in Kent County.

“We were one of the last to be mar­ried il­le­gally ear­lier this week, and now we’re one of the f irst to be mar­ried legally,” Waas­dorp said. “No mat­ter what hap­pens we’ll be part of history.”

Pet­rina Blood­worth and Emma Foulkes, who live in At­lanta, had been to­gether for 10 years, but didn’t tie the knot of­fi­cially un­til Fri­day, when they were the f irst among dozens of cou­ples at the li­cense of­fice to be wed.

Ge­or­gia had filed a friend of the court brief op­pos­ing the ex­pan­sion of same- sex mar­riage; the cou­ple said they had con­sid­ered get­ting mar­ried else­where but that would have cre­ated prob­lems when they came back home, where their mar­riage would not have been rec­og­nized by their own state.

On Fri­day, the mar­riage li­cense of­fice was serv­ing slices of cake, and Blood­worth and Foulkes seemed shocked when a re­porter con­grat­u­lated them on be­com­ing wife and wife.

“It’s just we hadn’t heard that be­fore,” said Blood­worth. “This is the f irst time.”

In Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi and Texas, the fu­ture for same- sex cou­ples was hazy, at least in the short term, as state of­fi­cials vowed to re­sist the change. While he ac­knowl­edged that the high court’s de­ci­sion is “the law of the land,” Mis­sis­sippi Atty. Gen. Jim Hood said Fri­day he would not al­low li­censes to be is­sued un­til a fed­eral ap­peals court lifts its stay of a lower court or­der over­turn­ing the state’s ban on same- sex mar­riage.

Hood, the lone Demo­crat hold­ing state of­fice in Mis­sis­sippi, said it could take sev­eral days for the 5th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals to ei­ther lift the stay or is­sue an or­der clear­ing the way for same- sex mar­riages.

Only three cou­ples tied the knot in that state be­fore its at­tor­ney gen­eral put a halt to is­suance of li­censes.

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott said he would or­der state agen­cies to “pri­or­i­tize the pro­tec­tion of Tex­ans’ re­li­gious lib­er­ties.” He said he would be look­ing for ways to en­sure that peo­ple who don’t want to per­form same­sex mar­riages do not have to.

That didn’t dis­cour­age Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, part­ners of al­most 18 years.

They were two of the plain­tiffs in the Texas case chal­leng­ing that state’s ban on same- sex mar­riages, and they said they had booked a wed­ding for Novem­ber in Frisco, Texas.

“To­day’s de­ci­sion reaf­firms the Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples of free­dom, jus­tice and equal­ity for all,” Phariss said. “Let free­dom ring!”

Mary Alice Weeks Hat­ties­burg Amer­i­can

AM­BER HAMIL­TON, cen­ter, and An­nice Smith share their f irst kiss as a mar­ried cou­ple out­side a court­house in Hat­ties­burg, Miss., af­ter the rul­ing.

Larry W. Smith Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

GE­ORGE HARRIS, 82, cen­ter, and Jack Evans, 85, to­gether for 54 years, were emo­tional af­ter get­ting mar­ried in Dal­las fol­low­ing the Supreme Court de­ci­sion.

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