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Baton Bob, Atlanta’s famous gender-bending and baton-twirling Midtown street performer, wore a white wedding dress and a big grin as he strode to a flowery altar on the edge of Piedmont Park Friday.
He was about to symbolically marry local chef Gary Bender — wearing an electric blue bow tie and matching sash — just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
Bob, whose real name is Bob Jamerson, and Bender had planned the “Conscience Coupling Coronation” long in advance. So the timing of the court’s ruling was a happy coincidence.
“We didn’t plan this around the court ruling, but I am grateful that it arrived,” Jamerson said moments before he exchanged vows, rings and kisses with Bender. “We are not legally doing it tonight. We are doing it out of love. We want to show the world that love is love and we don’t need a government to tell us who we need to love.”
Asked if they would marry legally, Jamerson said he and Bender were going to “sort through that.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of people were celebrating up the street at the corner of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue, cheering, waiving rainbow flags and dancing to bass-thumping music. Nabil Mousa and Scott Richter were among them, wearing big floppy tie-dyed hats. Mousa’s shirt declared “Born this way.” The couple married in San Diego last year because Georgia had outlawed same-sex marriage.
“It’s an amazing process,” Mousa said of the high court’s decision.
Richter added: “He is legally my husband in Georgia now – they have no say.”
Garrett Cockayne stood across the street taking it all in.
“It’s almost an ‘I-told-you-so’ for all of us who have been marginalized over the last how many years,” he said. “It’s like our birthday.”
Matthew Dolloff said he was hoisting his rainbow flag with pride, pride he wished he had when he was younger. As a professor at Georgia Perimeter College, Dolloff said he has seen how much support younger generations have shown for same-sex marriage. He added tears come to his eyes when he thinks about what his 20’s could have been like if his community showed this much support as Atlanta does now.
“I’m happy,” he said while trying to hold back tears. “I’m really, really happy.”
Randy Bozarth never expected Georgia to recognize same-sex marriages, including his own. He met his spouse, Hyram, in 1991. They said “I do” in 2013 in Maryland.
“It’s still a celebration even though I’m already married,” he said. “Now it’s recognized here. Georgia will have to deal with that.”
Not everyone was celebrating Friday. Alveda King, an author and the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., issued a statement warning the court’s ruling is “not the final word.” She quoted Galatians 6:7, which says: “Don’t be misled — you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.”
“In the end, natural law, God’s law, will always trump common law,” she said. “Do not fear or be confused or deceived. Remain prayerful. Keep looking up. God will have the final word in this matter.”
Jamerson dismissed King’s comments Friday, saying he was focused on love and not marriage. He and Bender chose Friday for their ceremony because it marks the second anniversary of Jamerson’s controversial arrest in Atlanta.
At the time of his encounter with police, Jamerson was wearing a wedding dress on a Midtown street corner and celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end the federal ban on same-sex marriage. He was charged with two counts of simple assault and one count of obstruction against an officer, all misdemeanors. Those charges were ultimately dropped and the city has since agreed to pay Jamerson $20,000 to settle a federal lawsuit he filed.
A vocalist sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as Jamerson danced slowly with Bender on the altar. Jamerson cried when it was all over. And a long line of well-wishers lined up to hug him and cry with him.