Tracy Boyd has considered herself “married” ever since she and her partner exchanged vows in Harris County 22 years ago. But on Wednesday the Supreme Court opened the door to make it official.
Boyd, 47, said she cried uncontrollably when she learned that the nation’s highest court in a 5-4 ruling struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal benefits to same-sex married couples. The decision, in effect, clears the way for Boyd and her partner to eventually have the same marital rights as heterosexuals.
The court also gave same-sex marriage a boost by refusing to rule on a California voter-initiated ban on homosexual marriages. That means a federal district court’s decision to strike down Proposition 8 is still valid.
“I’ve been an activist for gay rights and an advocate for other political issues,” Boyd said. “It’s been a long, hard, and very lonely fight at times in Columbus, but today is a landmark decision without any doubt. They ruled in the best possible way they could for us.”
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On the other side of the issue, opponents of homosexual marriage expressed disappointment.
“Our position is that this decision is an abuse of marriage because marriage by definition, going back to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, requires a relationship between one man and one woman,” said Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, who lives in Columbus. “It is distressing that the Supreme Court could overrule the votes of so many people who don’t want homosexuals to have the same rights as they do to marry. We just regret that the decision was made in this way.”
Luquire said the court’s decision would give local gay marriage proponents more ammunition as they push for more rights.
“I think, to a point, the homosexuals have won and we have lost,” he said. “But we will continue to support heterosexual marriage. We will continue to try and get the state courts, where it’s legal and constitutional, to not approve the word ‘marriage’ for a relationship between two people of the same sex.”
But gay marriage proponents in Columbus are already revved up. Jeremy Hobbs, 38, a gay and single Columbus resident, is founder and president of the Chattahoochee Better Way Foundation, an organization that started five years ago to help people with HIV/AIDS. On Wednesday, he and his associates launched a chapter of the foundation called COL Gay Pride in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. He said it would push for equality.
“We made a decision we were going to wait for the Supreme Court ruling because we needed a clear precedent from our government saying that ‘we’re on the path to helping you,’” said Hobbs, who ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat in the last election. “Our main mission is to help people that are part of the LGBT community uplift their spirits, uplift their self-confidence and establish real pride in themselves.
“Our work is far from over,” he said. “Basically, what we’re going to be pushing for now is same-sex marriage in the state of Georgia as well.”
For Boyd, a former teacher at Carver High School, that day can’t come soon enough. She and her partner were united April 6, 1991, at a commitment ceremony officiated by her grandmother, a Unitarian minister. She declined to identify her partner because the woman is an employee at Muscogee County School District, and she fears repercussions.
“There’s nothing legal about it,” she said of the union. “Nobody can tell us whether or not we’re married. That’s a decision for us to make.”
Boyd said she retired from the school district in 2000 because she has Still’s Disease, a systematic inflammatory condition. She had a near-death experience about a year ago and worried about her partner’s legal standing if she passed away.
“When we had our commitment ceremony, we did speak to each other the traditional vows of ‘in sickness and in health’ and we’ve lived by that,” she said. “Part of our government refusing to allow us to be married is always that fear that (my partner) won’t be allowed to have access to me when I’m in the hospital. Or, when I die, none of the federal benefits that I accrue to myself through my life of work will go to her.”
Boyd hopes Georgia laws will change so she and her partner can marry legally someday.
“We intend to stand our ground and fight for our home state to do the right thing,” she said.