Same-sex marriages are legal in Georgia. For many years, the state did not legally recognize such unions. But, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark 2015 case, guaranteed same-sex couples the legal right to marry. To that point, Georgia's constitution made it illegal to perform or recognize same-sex marriages, and Georgia's attorney general, Sam Olens, even petitioned the High Court to allow Georgia's ban to stand. The court ruled against the appeal, however, and the state's governor quickly announced that Georgia would follow the court's ruling. "The state of Georgia is subject to the laws of the United States, and we will follow them," Governor Nathan Deal stated after the ruling, officially legalizing same-sex marriages in Georgia.
In 2004, 76 percent of Georgia voters approved a referendum banning same-sex marriage. The referendum was for an amendment to the state constitution that stated: "This state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman. Marriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state." The amendment was challenged in court, but in 2006, the state's supreme court upheld the ban.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that: "The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state." This ruling effectively legalized same-sex marriage in every state in the country—including Georgia.
Georgia, together with 14 other states, filed a brief with the Supreme Court appealing the ruling, arguing that according to the 14th Amendment, states should have the right to determine the "meaning and shape" of marriage. The Supreme Court did not agree and rejected the appeal. Georgia's governor stated after the ruling: "While I believe that this issue should be decided by the states and by legislatures, not the federal judiciary, I also believe in the rule of law.” After the governor said the state would comply with the ruling, Emma Foulkes and Petrina Bloodworth became the first same-sex couple married in Georgia on June 26, 2015—literally within minutes of the High Court ruling, according to The New York Times.
The brief filed by the states did not delay the ruling because unlike appeals in many criminal and civil cases, the Supreme Court often considers briefs—such as the objection filed by the 15 states—while it is deciding on the overall case. The court, essentially, rejected the states' objection to same-sex marriages at the same time that it ruled in favor of such unions.
With marriage, of course, comes taxation as well as other legal rights and responsibilities. The Georgia Department of Revenue, for example, stated that the agency would recognize same-sex unions. "The Department will recognize same-sex marriages in the same way it recognizes marriages between opposite-sex couples," the agency stated on July 14, 2015, posting on its website. "The Department will recognize a marriage where the license was issued in Georgia and a marriage lawfully licensed and performed out of state."
The ruling sparked widely divergent reactions in the state, but there was a general agreement that it would have a profound effect. "[This decision] is going to be far-reaching," Georgia State University law professor Tanya Washington noted shortly after the ruling. "And our processes, protocols, forms are going to have to catch up with this new reality... we will adjust."