Amanda DeWitt’s eyes went wide just after 10 a.m. Friday.
She’d been following the news about the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex decision online when she saw it: the 5-4 ruling granting gay couples the right to marry in all 50 states.
“I was running to my car on my phone saying, ‘Get ready,’” DeWitt said to her partner Aimee Balliew.
“She proposed two years ago, so we’ve been waiting for this day for two years,” DeWitt noted.
DeWitt and Balliew, who has begun the process to take DeWitt’s name, were the first same-sex couple on Friday to approach the Floyd County Probate Judge’s Office for a marriage license. They’d thought about traveling out of state before Friday’s ruling to get married, but wanted to wait and have their license and ceremony in Georgia.
“We wanted our family to be able to come,” Balliew said. “We wanted to wait until we had the same rights as people who did get married here.”
The couple approached a probate clerk around 10:20 a.m. asking for a license. DeWitt and Balliew then waited for the clerk’s office to receive official notice of the high court’s decision. The wait grew after they learned state Attorney General Sam Olens had to read the decision and issue a statement, which came around 11:30 a.m.
“Once the Supreme Court has ruled, its Order is the law of the land,” Olens said in a release. “As such, Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the Court.”
Probate Judge Steven Burkhalter greeted the couple just before noon, handing them Olens’ statement and the protocol judges would follow across the state.
The judge also noted his office’s computers would shut down at noon, allowing for a software update that would provide the couple a newer marriage application.
“It’s going to happen,” Burkhalter said.
At 12:20 p.m., it did.
The women sat before marriage and firearms clerk Shana Williamson, holding hands as the clerk explained the documents she needed to see and forms to be completed.
Ten minutes later they paid their fee and stepped outside the Floyd County Courthouse.
Randy Smith, a self-described conservative, then approached and asked them to forego getting a marriage license. He said society is built on marriages between one man and one woman, arguing same-sex marriage would cause that society to crumble.
“In God’s name, I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I’m concerned for you as well as I’m concerned for my country.”
Both sides remained cordial as the couple told Smith they’d already received their marriage license.
“We’re a family,” Balliew said.
The couple then wandered to their vehicle. DeWitt had to return to school. Both planned to celebrate that night, and hold their ceremony next month on Tybee Island.
“I feel like when people get to know us, they don’t care,” Balliew said. “We don’t run around with rainbow flags screaming, ‘I’m gay.’”
DeWitt and Balliew’s experience was one of many repeated Friday in courthouses across the state and country.
Gay rights supporters cheered, danced and wept outside the court after the decision, which put an exclamation point on breathtaking changes in the nation’s social norms.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996. It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.
The stories of the people asking for the right to marry “reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond,” Kennedy said.
Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama praised the decision as “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.” He said it was an affirmation of the principle that “all Americans are created equal.”
The four dissenting justices each filed a separate opinion explaining his views, but they all agreed that states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry.
“This court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent. Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.
“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts said. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage but about “this court’s threat to American democracy.” Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.
Several religious organizations criticized the decision and a group of pastors in Texas vowed to defy it.
Teresa Harris, of Cave Spring, said that as a Christian she opposes the decision.
“Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman, and I’m against the Supreme Court stepping in and trying to change marriage, redefining it,” she said. “That’s God’s place, not theirs.”
Kennedy said nothing in the court’s ruling would force religions to condone, much less perform, weddings to which they object.
The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration. But some state officials and county clerks followed the lead of the Fulton County probate court and decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor formed the majority with Kennedy on Friday, the same lineup as two years ago.
The earlier decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly. As recently as last October, just over one-third of the states permitted it.
There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans. Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says. Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.
The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights, and Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.
The states affected by Friday’s ruling are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.