In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, North Carolina recently won our battle for marriage equality. While I intend to find (ahem) time to write more about this later, I wanted to leave you with this testimony that I delivered yesterday evening at the Interfaith Voice after-pride service.
The We Do campaign, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is the brainchild of the Campaign for Southern Equality working out of Asheville. Headed by UCC Reverend Jasmine Beach Ferrara, the staff works tirelessly across seven southern states, staging peaceful justice actions in pursuit of full marriage equality.
To tell you the truth, until yesterday, the reality of marriage equality in North Carolina hadn’t actually sunk in yet. I had anticipated a huge party; great rejoicings in the streets of Winston Salem filled with tears and hugs. After all, I had lobbied hard against Amendment One and Liam and I had been denied marriage licenses in three separate We Do actions. I know there were celebrations. I know the streets were filled with my friends, waiting out the news downtown, rushing in to claim long-deserved marriage licenses and witnessing weddings on the steps of City Hall.
In my case, I saw the news on Facebook during a quiet dinner with my son in the middle of torrential downpour. Liam was somewhere far away on a spiritual retreat with classmates from Wake Forest Divinity. At that point, more than two years after our first denial for a marriage license, the end of Amendment One felt more like a sigh, “finally.” And, I admit, more than a bit of “do we dare believe it?”
I have spent a lot of time since then thinking about our three trips to the register of deeds counter and I’d like to give you a glimpse of what it was like to participate.
Our first We Do campaign action took place May 10, 2012, just two days after Amendment One was passed. We had decided fairly suddenly to participate and I had no real expectation of what that action would mean for us. Upon returning home, I wrote the following:
I was holding my driver’s license, my social security card, and, in my other hand, a wallet-sized photo of my son, wrinkled and damp from my sweaty palm. I wanted to show it to the woman at the desk. I wanted to show to everyone. I wanted to hold it up to the cameras and tell them that this 11-year-old boy is who we were fighting for. We were a family. We needed civil rights afforded us under the constitution so that my son could be protected at all costs. I wanted them to know that we were just an average family with jobs and a great church and a dog and a cat and this incredible kid and two old cars and a huge family of friends and…and…and…my voice died in my throat and my partner was requesting a marriage license and the woman was blankly telling us that “it was against the law of the state of North Carolina to issue a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”
This is part of what I wrote after our third We Do action:
Liam and I do not talk about what we are planning to say prior to each action. I generally let Li do the talking as I tear up and well over when speaking on issues that hit close to home. We approached the desk (taking note of a heterosexual couple applying for their own license at the next counter), and before Li would make a request, he retained our drivers licenses and asked the clerk (a nervous smile plastered on her kind face, she was clearly steeled for the onslaught) to hear our story.
I cannot tell you exactly what he said to her. I remember her face. I remember the fact that she never once broke eye contact during the telling of it. I remember hearing not unkind laughter from the couple next to us. I remember the feeling that the support group behind me radiated love and affection and had our backs. I remember that Li did not identify himself as a member of the trans* community and being surprised about that. (One of the things we wanted to focus on was the fact that when his gender marker changes—one initial on a driver’s license—our outcome in these actions will automatically change as well; which just proves how ludicrous these laws actually are. We will be the same couple that has stood at that counter and been denied three times.) And I remember screwing up my courage, looking into her eyes and that frozen smile (after already having been told “no”) and saying to her “Your job is to grant joy to loving couples every day. Would you deny us that joy?”
The answer was the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot issue you a marriage license at this time.”
Since that action, more than a year ago, Liam’s legal name has changed and the gender marker on his driver’s license is different. For months now, the same couple who has been denied three times has been eligible to receive that marriage license. But we waited. I will tell you that I have been very jealous of all our friends and the other couples from We Do campaign actions who have married elsewhere in order to have their unions recognized on a federal level. While we had a big, wonderful wedding back in 2011 and consider ourselves married in the eyes of our friends, family, and God, we made a very deliberate decision not to make it legal until everyone in our home state had that option.
I originally ended this with an empowering plea not to forget how much work we have left to do, not just for marriage equality but equality for all: gay and straight, trans and cisgender, young and old, citizens and immigrants – but I’ll hope you already know all that. Instead, I’d like now to tell you what was so important about yesterday. It wasn’t so much the celebration of Pride, although that went a long way toward convincing me that here, at least in North Carolina, we’d won our long-fought battle. It was the honor of witnessing the marriage of two beautiful, highly spiritual young women who have chosen our state as home and have plans to raise a family here. I can’t imagine two souls more perfectly matched. When Pastor Roger Hayes began “By the power vested in me…” and faltered, there was not a dry eye in the place. “By the power vested in me by the state of North Carolina.” That moment, my friends, is when I realized why we did, and continue to do, the work needed toward full equality. Liam and I already had the ability to get married. Our friends did not. Today they are legally recognized by the state of North Carolina as a couple fully joined in matrimony, and that makes the whole struggle worthwhile.