Yesterday morning, state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, sat on her couch and cried.
Although Georgia's first openly gay state lawmaker was overjoyed to hear the news that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, she shed tears. She was grateful.
"Thank you, God," she said. "Thank you, God, for making me gay. Thank you, God, for bringing me to Georgia. And thank you, God, for letting it happen today."
Yesterday afternoon, as Atlantans got off work, members of every letter of the city and metro region's LGBTQ community descended on the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue in Midtown to celebrate the court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor, legalizing gay marriage at the federal level.
Celebrants held signs and waved flags. Some American, some rainbow, and some a combination of both. As the afternoon went on, the sidewalks overflowed and gay marriage supporters stood at every corner. Law enforcement officers estimated that at least 400 people were in attendance.
Local LGBTQ rights leaders applauded the day's news and called for more action - but also reflected on what the last 10 years had brought for the community. In 2004, Georgia voters delivered a stinging rebuke of gay rights by overwhelmingly passing an amendment to the state's Constitution banning gay marriage. That was a rough year for the state's gay population - but the community's activists didn't quit.
"The world has not given our community very many good victories to celebrate so we're gonna celebrate the hell out of this one!" said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, one of the state's leading gay rights groups.
Although the Supreme Court's DOMA decision doesn't make gay marriage legal in Georgia, it could potentially allow same-sex Georgia couples to receive federal benefits if their marriages were performed in states where it is legal.
According to Anthony Kreiss, Political co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign in Atlanta, Georgians could potentially benefit from yesterday's ruling.
"If you're legally married in another state with marriage equality and you return to Georgia, there's a question now as to whether the federal government will give you benefits even though you live in Georgia," he said. "The evolving consensus is that most federal benefits will be available to Georgians even though Georgia itself does not recognize it."
Married couples have long been subjected to federal tax burdens and diminished survivor's benefits. Some Georgian same-sex couples could head to states with marriage equality to get hitched in hopes of qualifying for federal benefits.
"We have the hope of one day not paying a gay tax because we're the same sex," said Bradley Williams, a gay metro Atlanta resident who attended the event.
Activists did not forget how they achieved the day's victory - and did not ignore the work ahead. Despite the Supreme Court decision's potential impact, activists emphasized the importance of work on the ground in Georgia.
"This is now, very clearly, a local issue - an issue that only we as Georgians will be able to win," Graham said. "There is not going to be a national savior from the Supreme Court, unfortunately. They have given us a lot of momentum. They have cleared the way, but the struggle will be ours."
Even with the country's momentum on same-sex marriage, Georgia's laws don't provide equal protection in all other respects. Activists noted it's still legal to fire an employee just for being gay.
"The courts cannot prevent [workplace discrimination], we have to secure positive, affirmative legislation in order to secure those rights," Kreiss said. "The courts can do a lot of heavy lifting in Southern states that are resistant, but they can't do everything."
In other words, it's not over. Georgia's status as a reliably red, deep-South state won't stop Drenner.
"We may live in Georgia, but you know what? It's not hopeless for us," she said. "The fight is just beginning in Georgia. Governor Deal, we are here! We are here and we are queer!"
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