Aug 17, 2022 - News

Georgia's top Republicans divided on same-sex marriage

Illustration of the US eagle seal holding the rainbow flag.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In the wake of the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, the LGBTQ community is warily watching for impacts on other Supreme Court decisions, including the right to same-sex marriage guaranteed by the Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

  • In his brief supporting the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should also revisit other decisions, including Obergefell.

Why it matters: Georgia voters approved a constitutional ban on same sex-marriage in 2004, which remains on the books. Should Obergefell be overturned as Roe v. Wade was, that provision would take effect.

Threat level: In the wake of the reversal of Roe V. Wade and what implications it might have, there's "a lot of concern among the LGBTQ community," Jeff Graham, director of Georgia Equality, told Axios.

  • Georgia's provision, Graham said, both prohibits future marriages and prohibits the court from recognizing existing marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships.
  • He's heard from LGBTQ people who have moved up their wedding dates to try to avoid a Supreme Court decision getting in the way.

Driving the news: While all top statewide Democratic candidates in Georgia support protections for same-sex marriage and would support a repeal of the constitutional ban, Axios found differing positions on the Republican ticket:

  • Senate candidate Herschel Walker declined to answer several questions about the issue.
  • Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp told Axios his personal position is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
  • Lieutenant Governor nominee State Sen. Burt Jones told Axios he supports same-sex marriage.
  • Incumbent Attorney General Chris Carr declined to provide his own position on the issue, but vowed to continue defending the state's constitution.

State of play: No case to challenge Obergefell has been presented yet, but the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over a case which could overturn precedent protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination by business owners.

Context: This summer, the U.S. House passed a measure to codify federal protections for same-sex marriage with broad bipartisan support, and senators are negotiating to craft a bipartisan version.

Be smart: A federal law would trump any state provision.

What we're watching: Given the impending Supreme Court arguments about discrimination, Graham said advocates are focused now on a state-level non-discrimination law.

  • "I do believe even in a Republican-controlled legislature we can find support in the next few years to see some movement on a non-discrimination bill," he said, citing polling showing broad support for protections for LGBTQ Americans.

Axios asked the top candidates running in 2022 to explain their positions on the issue. (All Democrats said they support protections for same-sex marriage at the state and federal levels.)

Herschel Walker

When asked about his position on same-sex marriage at a press conference in Milton earlier this month, Walker said: "It is amazing that you keep talking about that, but yet people that I'm going around to in Georgia never mention that. They mention, 'Herschel, the gas prices are too high. Herschel, why are there no groceries on the shelves.'"

  • When pressed about his position, Walker repeated that Georgians are “not worried about that.”

Flashback: Weeks prior, Walker also did not answer when reporters asked if he would sign onto federal protections of same-sex marriage, saying: "we need to worry about what's happening right now."

Of note: Walker's 22-year-old son, Christian, is a social media political commentator who is selling merchandise related to his father's Senate run. This May, he posted on Twitter about his sexual orientation: "Pride month is starting so I’d like to announce to everyone that I’m NOT gay."

  • "I’m attracted to men but I refuse to identify with the rainbow cult. I don’t believe in indoctrinating children. My whole identity isn’t my sexuality. And I don’t go to gay bars. Don’t call me gay."

Context: In a 2010 interview with Howard Stern, when asked about his stance on same-sex marriage, Herschel Walker said “I don’t agree with gay marriages…because that’s not my religion but I say you’ve got to be accountable for yourself. I don’t agree with it, but that doesn’t mean I’m against it.”

Gov. Brian Kemp:

Kemp told Axios that while his personal position "has been marriage is between a man and a woman...that [Supreme Court] decision was decided long ago. Just like the abortion decision, people's views differ on that," he said.

  • The question of same-sex marriage, he said, "will be something that the court will have to take up. Until they do, I mean, it's purely speculative ...That's not on the radar and I have heard no one else say anything about that, but Clarence Thomas."

Yes, but: When pushed that the General Assembly passed a stronger ban on abortion in advance of Roe v. Wade’s reversal, Kemp said he hasn't seen the will in the General Assembly to pass something preemptively at the state level, as he did on abortion.

State Sen. Burt Jones

Jones told Axios he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. "I don't have any issue. Be with who you want to love. I don't have any issue with same-sex marriage at all."

  • "I've got first cousins, I've been to their weddings where they've had same-sex marriages. I'm supportive of people marrying who they'd like to marry."
  • Jones said if Obergefell was overturned, he would support a move to repeal the state's constitutional ban.
Attorney General Chris Carr

In a statement to Axios, Carr declined to provide his personal position on same-sex marriage but said: "It is the job of the Attorney General to follow the Constitution and that's what I will continue to do."

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