Bibb County leads midstate in gay marriage licenses after Supreme Court ruling

Lauren, left, and Paige Hightower exchange vows in front of Judge Edgeley Myers at the Bibb County Courthouse.
Lauren, left, and Paige Hightower exchange vows in front of Judge Edgeley Myers at the Bibb County Courthouse. jvorhees@macon.com

Shannon and Heidi McBrair took off their wedding bands about a month ago.

In 2012, while Shannon was pregnant with the couple’s child, she changed her last name to McBrair.

Shannon and Heidi, who had met in 2010, considered themselves married and put on the rings, although they couldn’t legally tie the knot in Georgia.

After learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling June 26 that legalized same-sex weddings, the couple decided to take the rings off. They wanted to put them back on when they wed.

“We knew we were getting married,” Shannon McBrair said.

The McBrairs and about 33 other Middle Georgia same-sex couples have applied for marriage licenses in the month since the court’s ruling.

The bulk of the applications -- about 20 -- were taken in Bibb County, with another 10 or so in Houston County.

Probate courts in Bibb and Houston counties don’t keep track of applicants’ genders though, court officials said. The Telegraph analyzed the names of applicants for the figures used in this story.

Although courts soon will be required to record gender data at some point, the requirement isn’t in place yet, said Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health, the state agency that keeps vital statistics.

Many county Probate Court offices use third-party software that doesn’t include a space to indicate an applicant’s gender. The requirement won’t come into play until after the software is updated or counties swap to free state software that includes a drop-down box to record gender, Nydam said.

Court officials in Crawford, Monroe, Peach and Twiggs counties said no same-sex applications had been submitted in their offices during the first month after the ruling. Three applications have been taken in Jones County.

Since the law went into effect, a few midstate judges have stopped performing weddings altogether to avoid issues of marrying some couples, but not others, because of their personal beliefs.

Soon after same-sex marriages became legal across the country, the Georgia Council of Magistrate Court Judges issued a policy statement encouraging magistrates to either marry both heterosexual and homosexual couples, or not marry anyone, said Houston County Chief Magistrate Judge Robert E. Turner, the council’s president.

“No judge is required to perform a wedding ceremony,” said Turner, who hasn’t presided over a marriage in his nine years as a judge. “It’s a discretionary act.”

In preparation for their July 10 wedding, Shannon McBrair said she and her then-fiancee made a point to tell merchants up front that they were a same-sex couple in case any of them wanted to back out.

“We had no negative interactions. Nobody said we shouldn’t be doing this,” she said. “Nobody said no.”

Both teachers, 38-year-old Shannon and 40-year-old Heidi met in October 2010 after being set up on a blind date by a co-worker.

They went to a high school homecoming football game.

“The moment we met, we knew,” Shannon said. “Every day we’ve been together since then.”

Heidi proposed to Shannon the following January. Not sure how lesbian proposals were supposed to be done, Shannon proposed to Heidi weeks later, on Feb. 13, 2011.

Later that year, Shannon got news that due to a medical problem, she had a one-year window to become pregnant if she wanted to carry a child. Shannon gave birth in December 2012 to a girl, Kori, after artificial insemination.

Kori’s biological father, a family friend, surrendered his parental rights, Shannon said.

The then-unmarried couple sought to have Heidi named Kori’s second parent, akin to how a stepfather would adopt his wife’s children.

A Houston County judge denied the petition in 2014 without hearing arguments in a courtroom. Shannon said she remembers thinking “this is not fair.”

She and Heidi both have master’s degrees and don’t have criminal backgrounds.

“All we’re doing is trying to raise our child,” she said.

But without the adoption going through, Heidi can’t even legally sign a document at the doctor’s office for their daughter.

With same-sex marriage now legal, Shannon said they plan to refile the adoption petition next month.

Writer Becky Purser contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398 or find her on Twitter @awomackmacon.