I love it when people come together in holy matrimony. The news is even sweeter when the union involves someone I care about.
This week I planned to meet Genarlow Wilson to discuss the last chapter of a book we are writing about his life and legal case. We agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday but I ended up working late so I contacted him about meeting by phone instead.
Little did I know Genarlow had other plans. A couple of days later, I got this text from him: “I got married this morning, we eloped.”
No wonder he blew me off, I joked. He put a ring on it! I’ve gotten to know Genarlow pretty well in the past two years. His family is extremely important to him. He didn’t have a strong relationship with his father, but is very close to his mother and sister, who stood by his side as his case wound its way to the Georgia Supreme Court.
His is a story of overcoming. At 17, he and five friends engaged in sex acts with classmates at a New Year’s Eve party in Douglasville, Ga. The next morning, a 17-year-old girl accused them of rape. They said it was consensual. But since a 15-year-old girl was involved — and she could not legally give her consent because she was underage — they were charged with aggravated child molestation. Wilson was acquitted of the rape charge, but convicted of aggravated child molestation. In April of 2005, shortly after his 19th birthday, he received a 10-year mandatory prison sentence. Before their cases went to trial, his co-defendants took plea deals and received much shorter sentences.
Wilson and his mother refused to accept his lengthy prison sentence. Thanks to the work of his appellate attorney and several legislators, the law was changed to make it a misdemeanor for teenagers of similar ages to have oral sex. In October 2007, after spending nearly three years in prison, Genarlow’s sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Justices called the 10-year sentence “cruel and unusual” and “grossly disproportionate” to the crime.
He walked out of jail and started his life anew. That new life included a full scholarship from the Tom Joyner Foundation to Morehouse College. In May, Genarlow received his sociology degree after he and other members of the class of 2013 listened to President Barack Obama talk about the responsibilities of being Morehouse men.
It’s one thing to get a job, President Obama said, it’s another to be there for your children; or to be a mentor or leader in your community. Morehouse men, he said, have a duty to make their mark on the world.
For Genarlow Wilson, that mark begins with being a great husband and father. The covenant of marriage is so important. It means being there for one another in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad and in poverty and in wealth.
That’s a tall order. But if anyone can do it, Genarlow and Tiffany can.