From a distance, the Crow family looks like the typical American family at a playground: parents pushing a small child on a swing and watching another one on a slide.
Sunday marks a year since Brittney Pulliam married Allison Crow and took her wife’s last name, making their family not just whole, but recognized by the law in all 50 states.
The couple was among the first in Middle Georgia to get married after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages, and they were the first to apply for a marriage license in Houston County.
In the year that’s passed since the landmark decision, many of the legal protections afforded heterosexuals now apply to same-sex couples, but there’s still a long way to go in Georgia and across the country, said Brandon Hanick, communications director for Better Georgia, a progressive advocacy group.
“We still have a steep hill to climb,” he said.
Each year, anti-gay legislation is being introduced in Georgia, he said, and it’s still legal for some employers to fire a gay person based on sexual orientation.
“Marriage equality is a huge step and it took a lot of hard work and people fighting … but we’ve still got a long way to go in Georgia,” he said.
On the one-year anniversary of the court’s ruling, The Telegraph spoke with several Middle Georgia same-sex couples to gauge how the past year has affected their lives and how attitudes within the community may have changed.
Knowing that the Supreme Court was considering legalizing same-sex marriage, Lauren and Paige Hightower had talked about making their union legal in the days before they became Bibb County’s first same-sex couple to tie the knot.
After a picture of their ceremony ran on macon.com and on the front page of The Telegraph, the Macon couple was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive responses they received — even from people they didn’t know.
Although they received a couple of anonymous negative comments on Facebook, that’s as bad as it got.
Having married in Vancouver in 2004, the Hightowers said they both were surprised by the emotions they felt years later after their ceremony at the Bibb County Courthouse.
“It’s hard to explain how much it impacted me emotionally … just to get the validation,” said Lauren, 48.
Like the Hightowers, Carey Pickard said he and his husband, Christopher Howard, received an outpouring of love and support from the community when they married in November.
After a small ceremony at their home, Pickard and Howard had a reception at the Hay House that was so well-received that they had “crashers,” said Pickard, also 48.
“It felt like it was bigger than just us,” he said. “People were happy for us,” but people also showed their support for love that hadn’t been able to be acknowledged through marriage.
It felt like it was bigger than just us.
Carey Pickard said of his November wedding
For the Crows, who live in Warner Robins, their marriage on the day of the court’s ruling was spurred by a fear that the decision might somehow be overturned.
“I said, ‘We’re going today to get married before they change it back’,” Brittney Crow said.
Rushing to the Houston County Courthouse within an hour of hearing about the ruling, they got a marriage license and had a friend perform the ceremony.
It was coincidental that the marriage came on the two-year anniversary of the day Allison proposed on bended knee beside a lake in Cochran.
In the year that’s passed, they’ve gotten mixed reactions from people.
“We still definitely get looks. I don’t think that will ever change,” Crow said.
Going to small towns, folks typically aren’t accepting of the relationship, Allison Crow said.
We still definitely get looks. I don’t think that will ever change.
But, some people have been nicer and more accepting, Brittney said.
Still, Allison said she’s been stopped as she went into a women’s restroom, with people saying she was headed into the wrong one.
The Crows are planning an outdoor wedding ceremony for sometime this fall.
Last year’s ceremony was so spur of the moment that they came dressed as they were, Brittney in a T-shirt and skirt and Allison in a shirt and shorts.
“We don’t even have any pictures from that day,” Brittney said.
There’s no question that the massacre at Orlando’s Club Pulse earlier this month put the nation’s conversation about gay people on the front burner.
But for the Crows, it’s also given opponents to their lifestyle a stage to talk from, they say.
They said they’re afraid of copycat attacks and more negative attention.
Pickard said he feels the incident “is a horrible reminder that we still have a long way to go.”
Lauren Hightower said every movement has some sort of “galvanizing moment,” and with the world’s reaction to the Orlando shooting, she thinks the tragedy has sparked people to look at the issue of homosexuality and realize the discrimination against it isn’t right.
“Now, it’s just a matter of time … between now and full acceptance,” she said.
Now, it’s just a matter of time … between now and full acceptance.
But what may be the next hurdle — the one beyond people’s acceptance of same-sex marriage — is society’s reaction of couples having children, said Paige Hightower, 46.
The Hightowers moved to Macon in 2012 after having trouble finding a school in north Georgia that would accept their now 8-year-old son as a student. (Paige gave birth after the couple contracted with a sperm donor.)
Jobs and ties to Lauren’s family brought them to town, where they’ve been surprised by the community’s tolerance toward gay and lesbian couples. Still, they’ve found some schools wouldn’t accept their son as a student.
The Crows are working toward Allison’s being able to adopt Brittney’s two biological children, 4-year-old Novy and 6-year-old Aiden.
Allison Crow said the children have never really known a life without having two moms, but a little while back, Aiden asked if he could call her “Dad.”
“He said I do everything a dad does,” Allison said.
While Brittney paints fingernails, applies make-up and is in charge of hairdos, Allison teaches the kids to ride bikes, play video games and about sports.
“To him, he doesn’t see the difference,” Allison said.
‘Husband is my new favorite word’
For Pickard, the court’s ruling also changed the way he faced the world.
Before, he was reluctant at times to talk about his now-husband and their life together.
When someone on an airplane would ask about his family, he’d talk about his parents and sister, but not about the man with whom he’s shared an 11-year relationship.
Likewise, the Hightowers say they now don’t feel like they have to be quite as careful when discussing their family.
The people who used to tell the Crows that they were “playing house” now accept their longtime use of the name “wife” at face value.
Pickard said he’d struggled for years to know which word to use. Partner didn’t sound right.
Now, he uses “husband” in casual conversation.
It feels right to him.
“Husband is my new favorite word,” he said.