Muscogee County issues first same-sex marriage license

Updated story: James Wherry and Mario Jay Jamandron Occena, now Mario Jay Wherry, were married today at about 4:30 p.m. by Judge Marc D’Antonio. The two were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license from Muscogee County.

“I’m very happy about it,” James Wherry said. “Marriage is the bedrock of our society. I hope that same-sex couples can rejuvenate and revitalize marriage and give it the respect it is due.”

James Wherry said he and Mario Jay Wherry met through gaymatchmaker.com. James Wherry proposed and flew to the Philippines to hold an engagement party with Mario Jay Wherry and his family. Mario Jay Wherry arrived in the United States at the end of May.

When the two heard about the Supreme Court decision, they came to the courthouse at approximately 4 p.m. Friday to obtain a marriage license.

“MARRIAGE IS THE BEDROCK OF OUR SOCIETY”

James Wherry, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, said he wishes same-sex marriage could have been legalized through the legislature.

“In many places, it was done with the legislature,” James Wherry said. “However, legislatures are sometimes driven by minorities and special-interest groups and it’s necessary for the court to pry those apart.”

For now, though, James Wherry and Mario Jay Wherry said they are happy to be married and appreciate the overwhelming support they’ve received from friends and family.

James Wherry said the two plan to go to Disney World for their honeymoon.

“It feels good,” James Wherry said. “We’ll try this for 50 years and if it doesn’t work out we’ll get a divorce.”

Original story: The Muscogee County Probate Court office will begin marrying same-sex couples immediately, Judge Marc D’Antonio said Friday at noon.

The decision comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier in the day to make such unions legal in all 50 states.

“If I am going to continue to do marriages, I can’t discriminate,” D’Antonio said. “… I took an oath to follow the law of the land, and this is the law of the land now.”

As of noon, no same-sex marriages had been performed in the Columbus government center, D’Antonio said. His office has received a number of inquiries since the landmark Supreme Court decision was announced mid-morning.

Across the river in Alabama, Russell County Probate Judge Alford Harden said his office would cease issuing marriage licenses for the remainder of Friday, then start Monday morning issuing them to all couples — gay and straight. His office, as has been the policy since earlier this year when the gay marriage issue surfaced in Alabama just ahead of the Supreme Court decision, will not perform marriage ceremonies for any couples.

“THE SUPREME COURT IS THE LAW OF THE LAND, AND I WILL FOLLOW THE LAW OF THE LAND.”

Alabama probate judges have been dealing with conflicting judicial orders. A U.S. District Court judge has ordered Alabama probate judges to issue same-sex marriage licenses, while Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore has issued an order countering that.

“In my opinion, we have not had any general direction,” Harden said. “The Supreme Court is the law of the land, and I will follow the law of the land.”

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican, wasted little time giving direction to that state’s probate judges, who are charged with issuing marriage licenses. Less than two hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Olens sent a directive to the probate judges telling them to follow the law.

“Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Constitution 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,” Olens said in a statement. “It does not permit bans on same-sex marriage. In our system of government, the Supreme Court bears the ultimate responsibility for determining the constitutionality of our laws. Once the Supreme Court has ruled, its order is the law of the land. As such, Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the court.”

Unlike in Alabama where many judges, including Harden, have chosen to cease performing all marriages, D’Antonio said he will not do that.

“Columbus is a military town,” D’Antonio said. “We have a lot of service members who need to get married in short order. If I stopped doing marriages, I could not do the ones for the service members.”

Since the judges on the Alabama side have stopped performing marriage ceremonies, D’Antonio said couples have been coming to his office to get married.

The Muscogee County Probate Court can perform marriages for those who live outside the county and the state, but they have to purchase the license in Muscogee County. The form in Muscogee County already has changed from groom and bride to applicant 1 and applicant 2.

Why it’s a highlight:

I wrote about half of this story (the non-background bits) after staking out the Probate Judge’s office for about four hours. That and the association with a historic story make this story a favorite.

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Original Story

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