Journey to matrimony

This June 26, 2015 marked a milestone in American history.  To some, the court case Obergefell v. Hodges doesn’t mean much, but the 5-4 landmark decision granted same-sex couples the legal right to marry.

Decatur counselor Ken Jackson and his spouse Tim Murphy appreciated the outcome of the ruling.

Jackson married Murphy in 2014. Because gay marriage was not then legal in Georgia, they decided to marry legally in New York for their 18th anniversary.

“I guess that was [also] our honeymoon because we had to put all the expenses of flying there with a couple of friends,” he said. “Then we came back again and had a big party with our friends and family.”

On their wedding day, New York was celebrating Easter Sunday with fanfare and a parade that Murphy remarks was “for us.”

The couple were leaving the U.S. for a vacation in Canada when the Supreme Court declared the national legality of same-sex marriage. “We were beaming,” Jackson said. “We wished we had flown out to Canada the next day so we could have been in Atlanta with all of our friends.”
The couple were leaving the U.S. for a vacation in Canada when the Supreme Court declared the national legality of same-sex marriage. “We were beaming,” Jackson said. “We wished we had flown out to Canada the next day so we could have been in Atlanta with all of our friends.”

The couple also had an unusual wedding rehearsal the weekend they stayed in New York.

“We and our friends are all big Braves fans, and they [were] playing with the Mets that weekend,” Murphy said. The two held a quick rehearsal at the game, instead of preparing in their actual wedding location.

The couple’s relationship began at a bar in Jacksonville, Florida, when Jackson was 35 and Murphy was 26.

“We also met each other through friends who went to the same church, but we didn’t realize that we knew each other,” Jackson said. “We saw each other in a series of coincidences that got us into the same bar at the same night.”

Jackson and Murphy both claim that they “worked [their] way up” to speak to the other first.

Jackson also remembers that they were talking with another person that went to their church, but doesn’t remember if “we pushed him out of the way or [he] just wandered off” but that that was the moment that they started talking to each other.

“I’m really mature and Ken’s really immature so—” Murphy said.

“That was what I was going to say,” Jackson said. “He’s much more mature than I am. We really balanced out because of that.”

On the day of the historic court ruling, the couple were “ironically leaving the country to Canada” for vacation, Jackson said.

“We were very excited,” he said. “We were getting on our phones and ran into another couple who were flying out, and they were all very excited and looking at it on TV.”

Even with the court decision, Jackson feels like there “is no next step” for them.

“We made a decision long ago of a lifetime of commitment,” he said. “At this point, we just work hard to be like every other boring couple, you know, looking at buying houses or those kinds of things.”

What matters to them now is the legal recognition and implications. In the past, they paid extra taxes to the government because their marriage wasn’t recognized in Georgia.

“Filing taxes next year is going to be a lot easier,” Murphy said.

Jackson says the two will no longer have to carry their wills in case of a medical emergency.

“Before, if one us were injured, the other, in some places, had no right in the hospital or make decisions… even be there for the other person,” he said. “Because we’re married, we do have that.”

Jackson thinks the ruling has led to an entirely different attitude towards the gay community. A recent conversation with a teacher confirmed this.

“I forgot the conversation I had when I walked in… I said I was leading a seminar on students to have less stress and she said, ‘I might have my wife come to this too,” he said, “I thought it was very interesting that in front of the class she made a very common [statement]. ‘This is my wife.’”

Jackson was talking to social studies teacher Briana Dayton.

Dayton and her wife Christen Gibbons first met at Agnes Scott College eight years ago. Gibbons was a year ahead of Dayton, but both were in the same group of friends.

They later married multiple times in different states. The couple held their marriage ceremony in Atlanta, legally married in Maryland, then became legally married nationally after the court decision.

Decatur teacher Briana Dayton and spouse Christen Gibbons initially didn’t like each other. and decided that they should just be friends in college. Dayton says that they were like “oil and water, and yet wound up drawn to each other.”
Decatur teacher Briana Dayton and spouse Christen Gibbons initially didn’t like each other. and decided that they should just be friends in college. Dayton says that they were like “oil and water, and yet wound up drawn to each other.”

Their latest wedding, held two years ago when Gibbons was pregnant, “was like a shotgun wedding, which was hilarious,” Dayton said.

Both their families and extended families were “really happy” when the court ruling passed. Dayton feels their family already considered them married before the court ruling, though.

“I don’t think it changed their perception at all, but they were all happy for us,” she said. “My grandparents were actually pretty cute. I mean, 84 and 86-year-old grandparents were excited for us.”

Although Dayton and Gibbons considered themselves married for a while, “both would have been really upset and sad if [the court case] didn’t pass.”

“I don’t know if a lot of people know that if you were married in a legal state and living in a state that didn’t recognize the marriage [that] you had to fill out five tax returns, which is time intensive,” Dayton said. “It was very complicated.”

She and her wife, however, feel that this was a step in “respect towards recognition.”

CHARLIE BAILEY AND ROY SANDERS

Like Dayton and Gibbons, Charlie Bailey and Roy Sanders, parents of junior McCrae Sanders, met in college. The two were in a gay and lesbian student organization at Vanderbilt University in 1987 and later began dating in 1993.

According to Roy, the Nashville gay community was small then, which caused controversy when he and Bailey announced their ceremonial marriage in a local Tennessee newspaper.

“The editorial board and the editor decided that they weren’t going to allow same-sex civil unions or same-sex marriage announcements in the newspaper,” he said, “so the editor of the living section decided that she was going to send reporters to our wedding and cover it as a news story.”

The story ended up as a front page story.

“We would get mail, nasty phone calls… people left messages,” Bailey said.

“Lots of nasty things in the newspaper,” Roy added.

“Harassment at work,” Bailey said.

“People would write in to [the newspaper],” Roy said. “They were pretty awful.”

Bailey and Roy celebrated their wedding at Vanderbilt Divinity school chapel. Although they “had not intended to make it a big deal,” their story was picked up by Genre magazine.

“We just wanted an announcement in the paper, and it became this really big deal,” Bailey said.

Problems mounted when the couple decided to start a family.

Charlie Bailey and Roy Sanders feel that the Supreme Court ruling gave them a sense of legitimacy and safety. “In the past, I have almost always referred to Roy as my partner,” Bailey said, “Now it actually feels more comfortable to say husband or spouse because there is legitimacy [and a] legal recognition to that relationship.”
Charlie Bailey and Roy Sanders feel that the Supreme Court ruling gave them a sense of legitimacy and safety. “In the past, I have almost always referred to Roy as my partner,” Bailey said, “Now it actually feels more comfortable to say husband or spouse because there is legitimacy [and a] legal recognition to that relationship.”

“When we adopted the kids, we wound up in another magazine with the boys,” Bailey said. “We were the first openly gay couple to adopts kids in Tennessee outside [of] HIV-positive kids.”

Back then the state of Tennessee only allowed gays and lesbians to adopt HIV-positive children. The couple contacted a Memphis social worker to conduct a home study and followed the legal process.

“Once the children were adopted, people accused us of buying the children [to molest them],” Roy said. “[They] accused us of all sorts of things.”

The couple left in June 1999 and moved to Cooperstown, N.Y. for safety issues and protection.

“It was one of the few states at that time that allowed same-sex couples to openly adopt together. We were able to re-adopt up there and [were] both recognized as legal parents on the birth certificates,” Bailey said.

Charlie Bailey and Roy Sanders adopted sophomore McCrae Sanders in Jan. 1999.
Charlie Bailey and Roy Sanders adopted sophomore McCrae Sanders in Jan. 1999.

“We got legally married in 2012 because McCrae wanted us to get legally married,” Roy said. “We went back to Cooperstown where we had adopted the boys and actually got married in the same courthouse where the boys were adopted.”

After same-sex marriage became nationally legal in the U.S., Roy felt a “a sense of legitimacy” that didn’t exist before.

ROBERT TRUAN AND SETH THOMPSON

There was a similar sense of excitement for band director Robert Truan when the court ruling passed.

He was eating brunch with former Decatur band director Megan Williams, her daughter Isabel and former Decatur horn teacher Richard Williams when he heard the news from his now-husband, Seth Thompson.

“I was surprised by the court’s decision and was amazed by the eloquent writings of Justice Kennedy,” he said. “Richard, Megan, Isabel and I gave each other high fives. Isabel was extra excited.“

Truan drove home, not thinking about going straight to the courthouse, but his husband “had the idea of going to the courthouse right then.”

Dressed in a maroon t-shirt, blue skull patterened shorts and Vans, he arrived at an Atlanta downtown courthouse with Thompson, who was dressed in cutoff jean shorts and exposing his machete tattoo.

“Seth and I definitely would have won the award for most underdressed,” Truan said. “One couple wore all black. Another couple wore business suits. And there was Seth and I.”

They were greeted by a surprise in the courthouse.

“I thought it was going to be a bunch of gays just trying to become legally equal,” he said, “but no, there were cameras everywhere. People were everywhere — both straight and gay — and they were performing five to 10 minute ceremonies streaming live.”

Thompson’s mother saw them marry on TV when she visited her cousin in the hospital.

“It was quite a coincidence,” Truan said.

The surprises kept coming.

Truan and Thompson were handed a sheet that said “couple #5.”

“I feel very proud to say that we were the fifth same-sex couple to be married in Georgia,” Thompson said. “I didn’t think I would react emotionally to [the court decision,] but I did. Rob and I could be a part of the conversation now.”

Although legally married in June, the couple had ceremonially married two months earlier.

Robert Truan and Seth Thompson met on match.com. “We’re going to be on the commercials! Not really,” Truan said, “I think that would make for a weird commercial.” The couple first met face-to-face at a restaurant. “I thought Seth was a tragic looking older man sitting at the bar — and I was right — JK. Luckily, I was wrong and Seth was sitting just on the other side of him.”
Robert Truan and Seth Thompson met on match.com. “We’re going to be on the commercials! Not really,” Truan said, “I think that would make for a weird commercial.” The couple first met face-to-face at a restaurant. “I thought Seth was a tragic looking older man sitting at the bar — and I was right — JK. Luckily, I was wrong and Seth was sitting just on the other side of him.”

“We had the ceremony before the ruling at my mother and stepdad’s house,” Thompson said. “We had around 150 guests show up, and the ceremony took place outside. Afterwards, we had a great dance party [where] Rob split his pants.”

To Truan, the ceremony felt “very homemade.”

“First, we made a save-the-date video which included us lip syncing and air drumming to “Forever Young,” he said. “We had a CD as our take-home gift with our favorite songs on it.”

Decatur teachers, family, friends and former band parents celebrated, and ate barbecue with the couple.

“We have too many pictures from it,” Truan said.

THE FUTURE

Decatur’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) co-president Maia Schneberger celebrated in Atlanta following the court decision.

On June 26, she woke up to a friend yelling over the phone about the decision.

“It took me a moment to register what he was saying, but once I realized, I was kind of just like ‘cool, man,’” she said.

After her friend hung up, Schneberger spent some time on social media where her “cool, man” escalated to excitement.

“I was super excited at this point, so I posted an old picture on Instagram from Pride of my friend and I,” she said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how angry people probably were and how funny it was that they had to just deal with same-sex marriage anyway.”

Although the recently married couples all are pleased with the court ruling, they have widely different perspectives on the status and treatment of homosexuals in America.

Thompson is “still amazed by the religious right talking about the Bible as their justification for their belief.”

“It’s hard to blame them because they are just following their own logic based on their own life experience,” he said. “They aren’t bad people. They are just very stuck in a world that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Bailey is aware of obstacles in store for him and others in America.

“There is still not protection in most states for gays and lesbians,” he said. “There [are] going to be more people pushing for protections based on religion… it will be interesting to see how far those aspects get and how far the recognition of same sex couples extend.”

Dayton also believes that not everything is resolved.

“Outside the City of Decatur school system in the state of Georgia, a lot of people have added a conflict because they might be married now, but they could still be fired if their employer found out,” she said. “I mean, I never lied at Tucker High School, but I couldn’t be out, and I certainly wouldn’t be talking to the school newspaper.”

Schneberger doesn’t believe that LGBTQ matters are resolved yet either.

“I can’t tell you how many people texted me saying ‘love always wins’ — people who had never once expressed a desire to help or be involved,” she said, “and saying ‘love always wins’ seemed to negate the lives that have been lost in the struggle.”

Despite some unease, she’s pleased about the court ruling.

“Congratulations if you are reading this and you got to marry your significant other. I’m so happy for you, and I’m so proud of your bravery,” she said. “I just want to reinforce the fact that this fight is not over. While marriage was a very important step, there is still a long, long way to go. Love has only gotten started.”