Tom Merrill and Patrick Cain got their paperwork together Friday morning to head down to the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office and apply for a marriage license.
But they stopped in their tracks after placing a call to the office.
“I said, ‘Are you issuing (marriage licenses) or not?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know yet,’ ” said Cain, referring to his conversation with a clerk staffer.
“And I said, ‘If we come down to the window …’ And his only words were, ‘Congratulations.’ ”
Later it became clear that the Baton Rouge Clerk’s Office, like others across the state, planned to wait 25 days to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
At that point Cain, 52, and Merrill, 54, switched gears, planning an elopement — but with family — to Florida.
Merrill said they always planned to wait to get married until their union would be recognized in the state where they live. But with Louisiana clerks at the moment unwilling to sign marriage licenses for gay couples, Cain and Merrill are moving on to plan B.
“We do now have the elopement plans in place,” Merrill said.
“Rather than wait 25 days for Louisiana to get its stuff in gear, we’re gonna be married in Florida with our families. Louisiana will have to catch up. ... We think it’s important, we wanna do it, and we want to have our families there with us,” he said.
Other couples headed to the Louisiana State Capitol building Friday evening to celebrate the legal victory, so long in coming for so many.
A crowd of marriage equality advocates waved rainbow flags and celebrated the doors the Supreme Court opened for their relationships during the rally held hours after the court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
The crowd was brimming with smiles and hugs, though many noted that the one sour spot was the inability for same-sex couples in Louisiana to obtain marriage licenses on Friday. Some said they would wait out the 25-day waiting period clerk of court offices are following, while others vowed to fight it.
Regardless, celebrants said Friday was a day for celebration, a day that marked progress and a day that some of the older couples said they never believed would come in their lifetimes.
David Nall and Scott Pitzer married in California in 2008. But Nall, a Baton Rouge native, had always wanted a wedding at home with friends and family.
“I’ve been talking about this for 20 years now,” he said, as he stood on the steps of the State Capitol.
Nall was one of many people at the rally who said he had already been married in a different state.
Another was Monica Ingram, who married her wife in 2003 in Toronto. Along with her wife, she was glued to the website SCOTUSblog.com — which posted news of the decision almost immediately — until the news came out.
She said they started crying when they first saw the ruling. They have no plans for another wedding but said they are more excited that their marriage will now be recognized from a legal standpoint in Louisiana.
At Friday’s rally, many marriage equality advocates addressed a crowd of an estimated 200 people and explained what the day meant to them. Two of those who spoke represented religious groups, while others were politicians or leaders of advocacy groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
While gay-rights activists cheered Friday’s decision, news of the Supreme Court’s decision divided local religious leaders.
“My initial reaction was, I guess, ‘At last!’ ... And just shared joy for all of those people whose marriages will now be able to cross state lines and all those people who are longing to be married in their home church in their home state,” said University Presbyterian Senior Pastor Patti Snyder.
“This is a big day. ... Live and let love. That’s what this is about,” said the Rev. Steve J. Crump, senior minister at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge.
The Rev. Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, a leading social conservative organization in the state, said the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds and “twisted” the ancient and biblically established definition of marriage.
“This court has gone too far. They got it wrong,” he said.
“Where is the line, or where are the lines?”
Mills said he is worried the decision could lead to judges forcing priests and ministers to marry gay and lesbian couples in defiance of their beliefs.
Crump noted that those congregations can still elect not to celebrate same-sex weddings.
“This decision does not infringe on religious rights,” he said.
And while some churches still oppose marriage equality, others have changed their tone.
“I think little by little, (most of) the other denominations will get in line,” he said.
But Mills believed the court was swayed by a “vocal minority” of gay-rights activists. He also believes the court of unelected judges erred by ruling in the case, rather than leaving the matter to Congress or state legislatures.
In a statement, Bishop Robert Muench, of the Baton Rouge Diocese, said the decision was “a cause for both sadness and concern,” and referred to a statement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which called Friday’s ruling “a tragic error.”
Bishop Michael Jarrell, of the Lafayette Diocese, was more pointed in his criticism.
“Let me state very plainly that no human court has the authority to change what God has written into the law of creation,” he wrote Friday.
“I realize this ruling will create conscious problems for many Catholics, especially those in public office. In some cases, civil disobedience may be a proper response.”
Staff writers Maya Lau and Lanie Cook contributed to this report.