Ga. accepts gay-marriage ruling responsibly … for the most part

Look around the region, and you shake your head.

In Alabama, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court ordered probate judges to defy federal courts by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples; at last count Tuesday, some 20 Alabama counties were still upholding the ban. The Alabama Senate, in a move akin to closing public schools rather than desegregate them, had at one point even voted 22-3 to have the state cease issuance of marriage licenses altogether rather than be forced to issue them to gay couples. (Cooler heads later prevailed.)

In Texas, the state attorney general has taken the stance that no court “will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” ruling that local judges can refuse to issue licenses if it violates their personal religious beliefs to do so. In Louisiana and Mississippi, state and local officials have also balked at accepting last week’s Supreme Court ruling, holding out by claiming that the ruling had not yet been formalized.

And in North Carolina, conservative legislators recently overrode a veto by Gov. Pat McGrory so that local officials with religious objections can refuse to issue licenses or carry out other official duties linked to gay marriage. McGrory, a Republican, had argued that “no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath,” but legislators thought otherwise.

To the credit of Georgia officials, none of that preening and posturing has happened here. The Supreme Court’s ruling has been accepted respectfully and responsibly, if reluctantly. “The state of Georgia is subject to the laws of the United States, and we will follow them,” as Gov. Nathan Deal put it.

Attorney General Sam Olens, who had fought the legalization of gay marriage and urged the Supreme Court not to overturn Georgia’s ban, also made clear his position after the court ruling:

“Georgia’s local governments are now constitutionally required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, to issue those licenses in the same way and via the same procedures employed for all other applicants, and to recognize same-sex marriages on an equal footing with all other marriages.”

So far, so good. But as gay couples happily make their way to Georgia courthouses seeking official state recognition of their marriage intentions, the battle is far from over. After months of denial that his proposed “religious freedom” amendment was a backlash against legalized gay marriage, state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus has pretty much given up the pretense, if not the effort.

When the Legislature reconvenes in January, McKoon is promising a renewed battle to legalize discrimination against gay married couples as long as those involved claim a religious reason for doing so. He and his allies are also pondering Alabama-style legislation to cease issuance of state marriage licenses altogether, apparently to save the state of Georgia from the moral stain of approving gay unions.

Such battles will not be good for Georgia or for the Republican Party, but if forced to fight them, we shall do so.