One couple says it's a Southern thing: Louisiana gay couples not rushing to get married _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- From left, Justice of the Peace Moses Evans, Jr., jokes around with newlyweds Ronald Granger and Madison Maddux at Evans' Chapel, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Baton Rouge.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide sent celebrants pouring into the streets Friday in Louisiana and beyond, but the ruling so far has produced only a trickle of couples at clerks’ offices around the state actually seeking licenses to be married.

In New Orleans, just three couples showed up on Friday. Most parishes in the state reported receiving no requests for same-sex licenses, even before word spread that the clerks’ offices would not be issuing them that day.

The underwhelming response stood in contrast to the response that has followed rulings authorizing same-sex marriage in other states over the past several years. In many states, marriage offices have been inundated with long lines of couples hoping to marry immediately.

When New York became the sixth and largest state to allow same-sex marriage in June 2011, 800 couples rushed to tie the knot on the first day they could, according to published reports.

So far, requests for marriage licenses at parish clerks’ offices in Louisiana have paled in comparison. As of Tuesday evening, fewer than 50 had been issued in the Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans metro areas.

New York’s population, of course, is more than four times that of Louisiana.

One reason for the small turnout may be that 37 states and the District of Columbia already allowed gay marriage before the Supreme Court made it lawful nationwide, meaning many gay couples who could afford to travel to one of those places already had gotten married elsewhere before Friday’s ruling.

It is also possible that the news has prompted engagements that will lead to weddings later on.

French Quarter residents Daniel Larkin and Chris Allen were in the former group. After 10 years together, they got married in San Diego in November. Larkin said they wanted to get married in a place to which they had a connection. He is from California. Although the couple lives in New Orleans and has a house in Asheville, North Carolina, the Southern states were dropped from consideration because they didn’t recognize same-sex unions at the time, he said.

“We weren’t planning on holding our breath for Louisiana to come around,” Larkin said. “I thought that if Louisiana did come around, it would be the way it did, a Supreme Court decision. Otherwise, I thought we would be last in the country if not for Alabama and Mississippi.”

Larkin said many of his friends in same-sex relationships also chose to marry elsewhere as the option became available.

Mona Shield-Rice also didn’t want to wait for Louisiana to change its policies. She and her wife, Tammy Shield-Rice, got a marriage license in California before holding a wedding in New Orleans last year.

“We love New Orleans,” Mona Shield-Rice said. “We wanted to have the wedding there. And that was the only way to really do it at the time.”

As of Tuesday evening, The Advocate had confirmed that at least 57 of the state’s 64 parishes are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Officials in Webster, Jackson, Lincoln and Madison parishes did not return requests for comment.

Meanwhile, officials in St. Tammany and LaSalle parishes said they intend to begin issuing licenses after fixing computer problems. Red River Parish officials said they intend to wait until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was considering a same-sex marriage case at the same time as the Supreme Court, orders them to comply.

Christina Chapuis suspects that some couples haven’t made it to the license office because they are letting the moment sink in before they take the same steps straight couples take: engagement and wedding planning.

A marriage license must be used within a month of being issued, while weddings can take several months to plan, said Chapuis, marketing and business manager at Wink Design and Events.

“I think that for most people, it’s very emotional right now,” Chapuis said. “I don’t think the floodgates have opened.”

Rebecca Raney, a salesperson at Symmetry Jewelers, said she saw an uptick in same-sex couples shopping for rings Saturday, the day after the high court’s ruling.

“We had like three different couples come in that day who were looking,” Raney said. “I think they’re just getting engaged. The proposals are happening.”

Engaged couple Sara Savoy and Twila Ramage decided not to rush to a judge as soon as they could. Before the Supreme Court ruling, Ramage had suggested they get married in another state, but Savoy was against that.

Savoy said she wants her wedding to be a Louisiana-recognized “celebration of love,” attended by their many supportive family members and friends.

“Down in the South, we have traditions and things we want people to be a part of,” Savoy said, explaining the couple’s decision to wait to marry until this fall or next year. “I really want a money dance at my wedding. That’s the epitome of a Southern wedding.”