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Same-sex marriage ruling takes effect in Rockdale
'We're no longer second-class citizens'

For many, not much changed when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down their landmark 5-4 ruling Friday that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

But for some, it changed everything.

Melissa Staton and Candice Casas came to the Rockdale County courthouse as soon as they heard about the Supreme Court's ruling and were the first same-sex couple to apply in Rockdale.

In the Probate Court waiting area, they filled out the paperwork for a marriage license, beaming and shaking.

"I didn't think I'd be emotional when it came out," said Staton, a detective who's been with Conyers Police for 10 years. "I knew it'd happen eventually."

"I think I'm just in shock. Disbelief at this point," said Casas, who works in insurance.

They said they had been waiting years to see this day. "This is the first day we've been allowed to marry in our home state," said Staton. "It's finally nice to not feel like a second class citizen. We've got a family, we've got two kids, now we can finally be a family legally. We didn't want to drive to another state and get married because I was born and raised here. That was important to me."

They listened and wiped away tears as a court clerk explained about the brochures with information from Social Security, Department of Driver Services, and health issues - given to all couples applying for a marriage license - and paid the $56 fee.

"I'm just happy for my kids," said Staton. Their daughters are 13-years-old and 4-months-old. "They've got two mommies and have had two mommies for a long time, but now if something happens to one of us we don't have to worry about any red tape."

Casas agreed. "We don't have to deal with the hospitals and schools anymore [asking] ‘Who's the actual parent?'"

Family matters above all else for Casas and Staton. Casas used to work in the medical field but her commute was three hours round trip, so she found a job where she could work from home. "It came down to work or family... It'll always be family," she said.

They were married by Magistrate Court Judge Garland Moore in his office later that afternoon, with a few family members and friends attending the impromptu ceremony.

They said their day-to-day lives won't change much, but that piece of paper represents security and safety for their family. "We've been living like we're married. We've been going through the steps. We have everything together like we're married," said Casas, who plans on changing her name to Staton. "We just didn't have the state's approval or acknowledgement. Now we do."

For Angela Croy and Kim Smith, who have been together for 23 years and raised four children in Covington, Friday was an emotional day.

"It's a major, major turn in history, in our life," said Croy. "We're no longer second-class citizens. We're all equal now."

Kim Smith and Angela Croy were legally married in Florida, March 25, 2015. They did not go through a name change because they knew it wouldn't be recognized in their home state of Georgia.

"Now that this ruling has come down, we're going to make a decision about changing our names," Smith said. "We're planning on going to the court house on Monday and go into the probate court to find out what we need to do."

"Nothing can replace the feeling I had March 25, 2015 in Florida, the day I married the love of my life for 23 years," Kim Smith said. "But just knowing after a week of honeymooning in Florida that after we came to Georgia, it was a letdown because we weren't married in our home state of Georgia - I feel great now that I am married now in any state we want to drive to or go to, I am legally married. It is truly a wonderful feeling."

"Now I can call my auto insurance company and say I'm married. I can get that little bit of a discount. It's the little, small stuff that people take for granted every day that we weren't afforded the right to have. Now I don't have to worry about if I die that she can't collect my social security."

Croy added, "The one thing I do say, this was never and should never be a religious thing. It's just human rights thing. It has nothing to do with one person's religion. It's human rights."

Jack McBride and Kevin Drury organize a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents and their families and friends in Rockdale and Newton counties called Out in the Country. "I can feel I speak for the group when I say, it's about time," said McBride. "Other organizations will come to realize this is a good thing for the spirits and souls of America who understand what diversity is all about and the fact everyone is different and can get along and is equally blessed by their Creator."

"I never thought I would see it in my lifetime," said Drury. "Even though the law may be changing, it's still a big debate in America."

Probate Court employee Deborah Anderson said Rockdale County Probate Court had been preparing for such a ruling.

"Our court will not be like some states that refuse to adhere to the law. We strive to give quality customer service here and we will continue to do so. We are going to abide by the law," she said.

Ga. Attorney General Sam Olens and Governor Nathan Deal issued statements on Friday saying the state would follow the decision of the Supreme Court. "In our system of government, the Supreme Court bears the ultimate responsibility for determining the constitutionality of our laws. Once the Supreme Court has ruled, its Order is the law of the land. As such, Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the Court," said Olens in a released statement.

Georgia was one of 14 states that still banned gay marriage. In 2004, voters approved a state constitution change banning same-sex marriage in Georgia and not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.


Clergy reaction

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory released the following statement after the Supreme Court decision:

"Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some people and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of these divisive cases, there would simply be no reason for the Court to convene. This most recent decision is no different.

"By the same token, every court decision is limited in what it can achieve; again, this one is no exception. It does not change the biological differences between male and female human beings or the requirements for the generation of human life, which still demands the participation of both. It does not change the Catholic Church's teaching regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, which beautifully joins a man and woman in a loving union that is permanent in commitment and open to God's blessing of precious new life.

"This judgment, however, does not absolve either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Neither is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own. It is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.

"This moral debate must also include the way that we treat one another - especially those with whom we may disagree. In many respects, the moral question is at least as consequential and weighty as the granting of this civil entitlement. The decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter, especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.

"The decision has made my ministry as a pastor more complex since it demands that I both continue to uphold the teachings of my Church regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony while also demanding that I insist upon respect for the human dignity of both those who approve of the judgment as well as those who may disapprove."

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, issued this statement: "I deeply believe in biblical and traditional marriage. The court has determined otherwise. Our number oneconcern at this point is that religious freedom is protected in every way, honoring our God-given conscience, and that we not be discriminated against for our biblical and traditional stand. This decision shows one thing: Our desperate need for the next Great Awakening and the hope of the Gospel given to all persons. We must rise up like never before with great urgency, to forward the message of Jesus Christ to every person in America and across the world."

The Church of Latter-day Saints, whose members are also called Mormons, issued the following statement Friday: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today's ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court's decision does not alter the Lord's doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice."


Bryan Fazio and Lisa Hetzel contributed to the reporting of this article.