Gay Marriage Debate Involving Entire State; with Same-Sex Partners in Every County, Issue Affects Communities Big and Small

By Basinger, Brian | The Florida Times Union, February 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Gay Marriage Debate Involving Entire State; with Same-Sex Partners in Every County, Issue Affects Communities Big and Small


Basinger, Brian, The Florida Times Union


Byline: BRIAN BASINGER, The Times-Union

AUGUSTA -- The Rev. Clyde Hill Sr. is torn by the growing national debate over gay marriage.

As the leader of Augusta's Mount Calvary Baptist Church, he says his spiritual beliefs teach him same-sex unions would violate the moral and societal foundations of the nation.

"It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. That's our conviction," Hill said, explaining he won't endorse marriage rights for a same-sex couple.

However, Hill also understands how important the concept of marriage is to gay and lesbian couples, many of whom want the legal protections that government provides to married households, such as inheritance rights, shared health insurance and hospital visitation.

"I'm not one of those people who bash others," Hill said. "Just because you don't go along with some people's convictions, it doesn't mean you hate or dislike a person. A lot of people can't see the difference. I think love should permeate the entire situation."

Hill's conflicted feelings underscore how many communities, both big and small, are wrestling with the idea of same-sex marriage.

A majority of Americans surveyed last month, 51 percent, opposed granting same-sex couples the same legal rights as opposite-sex married couples, while 46 percent of respondents favored such legal protections and 3 percent had no opinion.

The telephone survey was conducted by ABC News/Washington Post, Jan. 15-18 with a national adult sample of 1,036 respondents. It had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Recent court decisions -- including one Wednesday in Massachusetts -- have thrust the issue of gay rights into the national spotlight, leading to a slew of proposed laws and fiery arguments about whether legal protections should be extended to same-sex couples.

It's a debate with the potential to touch even the country's smallest neighborhoods.

The 2000 U.S. Census showed same-sex unmarried partners living in all of Georgia's 159 counties, adding up to 19,288 households, or 1.1 percent, of all coupled households in the state.

"We're everywhere," said Cheryl Simmons, a 40-year-old medical worker who lives near the Augusta National Golf Club with her partner of six years, Melissa Simmons.

"It's not like we wear a neon sign that says 'We're gay.' We just live our lives. We go to the grocery store. We go to the movies."

Cheryl legally changed her last name to match Melissa's in 2001, when the couple decided Melissa would become artificially inseminated. The couple now has a daughter, 18-month-old Jordan.

The name change came about, in part, to make sure Cheryl would always be able to take Jordan to doctor visits, emergency rooms or other situations where family relationships are often required for entry.

Cheryl said she constantly worries about "what if" situations.

"It's one thing dealing with it when we're both alive," she said. "But there is so much to deal with if one of us dies, like our house and our daughter."

REPUBLICANS WANT BAN

Massachusetts is expected to become the first state in U.S. history to issue same-sex marriage licenses, with the first ceremonies coming as early as May.

In light of that development, some lawmakers in Georgia are trying to stop such unions from coming to the Peach State, explaining they want to safeguard the institution of marriage from any modifications.

A group of Republican legislators is now pushing to add a ban on same-sex marriages to the Georgia Constitution. Gay marriage is already against the law in Georgia; however, some politicians fear judges could strike down the law and grant legal rights to same-sex couples unless a constitutional amendment is passed.

Rep. Warren Massey, R-Winder, says same-sex couples should not be allowed any legal protections because most marriage-related benefits are designed to nurture nuclear families made up of a husband and a wife.

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