Gay marriage finds acceptance among some even as referendum points in different direction

by Jordan Green

Among those waiting at the Forsyth County GovernmentBuilding on May 10 was Walter Marshall, a Democraticcounty commissioner who represents the counties urbancore in Winston-Salem. He was waiting for nine same-sexcouples to arrive to request marriage certificates.Gloria Whisenhunt, one of Marshall’s Republican counterpartsin District B, and Register of Deeds Norman Holleman stood at thetop of the elevator. County employees gazed out the front windowstowards the plaza.

County Manager Dudley Watts watched from thetop floor.“I think they should have the same rights I’ve got,” Marshall said.“I’ve been married to a woman for 47 years. I don’t think my personalviews should prevent anyone from having their civil rights. They workjust like I do. They pay the same taxes I do.”

It’s going to take time for same gender-loving people to secure theirrights, Marshall said, just as it took time for him to change his mind.“At one time, I didn’t think they had the right to live,” Marshall said.“When I was a teenager I would have grabbed a baseball bat and hit oneof them over the side of the head, and felt justified.”A physically imposing, athletic young man, Marshall recalled gettinghit on by a gay man in Atlantic City, NJ in the 1960s. He and his friendsgot invited to a party hosted by some gay men.

“We roughed ’em up, ate all the food and messed up the apartment,”he said.“I thank God I came a long way,” he added. “I never did anythingreally crazy.”His views have evolved over the past 15 or 20 years. He learned hehas gay relatives, who relocated to New York and became successful inbusiness and the arts. And he met a gay professor at Winston-Salem StateUniversity who explained to him that homosexuality was not a choice.

Those revelations made him question the received wisdom of hissmall-town, religious upbringing that held that gays were an abominationand creation of the devil.“I believe God created all of us,” Marshall said. “Your genetic makeupis nothing you can control any more than you can control whether youwere born with white skin or black skin. I don’t think they have any morecontrol over it than I have over being straight.”Whisenhunt’s sentiments were more circumspect.

“Everybody got to vote on it,” she said. “And that’s fine with me.”In the aftermath of the passage of the marriage amendment, the movementfor equality has shifted decisively, no longer advocating merely forthe preservation of the status quo, but now pushing to break barriers andoverturn unjust laws.

“My vote today was for the voices that cannot vote, for the young childrenof North Carolina that may grow up in an environment that doesn’tallow themselves to express themselves” said amendment opponent DavidSwift, who lamented the outcome of the ballot initiative with friendsat Encore American Bistro on election night.

“I hope someday they will see themselves as loving, as loved and as accepted people who can give back to their community. I am proud of who I am. I am gay. I’m an American.”

The campaign forged alliances between gay and straight that will have a lasting impact.

“I met couples who have been together 10, 20, 30, 40 years — people who are loving and committed,” Laura Salmons said on election night.

The next day President Obama declared that he personally supports same-sex marriage, adding legitimacy to the movement and effectively injecting the issue into the presidential campaign.

On May 8, the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality announced a series of coordinated actions across the state to demand an end to discrimination in employment, housing, healthcare, family protection and relationship recognition against lesbian gay bi and transgender people.

“There comes a time when you can no longer submit to these laws in good conscience, and we have reached such a time,” Executive Director Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said in a prepared statement, adding that “the path to full equality is on the federal level.”

Tonya Rinehart and Andrea Angelo were the first same-sex couple to present their application for a marriage license in the vital records office at the register of deeds. They handed their application and driver’s licenses across the counter.

Clerk C. McCummings handed the documentation back. Evenly, respectfully, quietly and with a hint of nervousness, she told them: “We cannot issue you a marriage license because it is not legal under North Carolina law.”

Rinehart smiled at McCummings. “Hopefully one day you’ll be able to say, ‘Yes,’” Rinehart said. “We’ve been together for 11 years.”

They turned from the counter and went down the escalator. When they came out on the plaza a cheer went up among a throng of supporters.

And so it went: One couple after another requested and were denied marriage licenses. Among them were Mark Maxwell and Timothy Young, who have been together since 1987 and have raised three children together, and Brent and Jerry Morin, who were married in Washington, DC last August but whose relationship is not recognized in North Carolina.

After their visit to the register of deeds, Scott Chappell, who has been with Kenny Barner for seven years, reflected on the couple’s desire to tie the knot.

“We want to make a public commitment to each other and with our family and friends,” Chappell said. “It’s also important for end-oflife issues. We’re people of faith and we would like to have that commitment celebrated with our biological family in a legal way.”

In the midst of the ritualized protest, Alicia Picou and Nate Bounds quietly slipped into the vital records office to obtain a marriage license. They had already submitted their application online. They presented photo ID, took an oath and collected the license. They will get married on Saturday at the Millennium Center.

They hadn’t taken much notice of the other couples. But Picou said she holds no objection to same-sex couples having the same right as she and her fianc’/p>

“I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell anyone how they should live their lives,” she said.

After the last same-sex couple requested and were denied a marriage license, Mary Jamis, Mary Lea Bradford and Christine Regan sat down on the floor in the vital records office. The register of deeds and the sheriff’s office had already been notified that they would refuse to leave until served.

At about 5 p.m., Jamis and Bradford moved to block the door. Regan extricated herself and slipped through the door, explaining later that she had been prepared to be arrested for refusing to leave the building but felt that the group’s tactics were escalating beyond a level that she felt comfortable with.

Watts, the county manager, introduced himself to Jamis and Bradford, who are not a couple, and confirmed they planned to refuse to leave until they had been served or forcibly removed. Before two female deputies moved in to place the two women under arrest, charging them with second-degree trespass, Watts listened politely to Jamis’ appeal.

“We believe that to deny us a marriage license is both unjust and unconstitutional, and with all due respect to you and your office we would like to explain our position,” Jamis said, reading from a prepared statement. “We understand that the laws and the constitution of the state of North Carolina prevent you and your office with providing us with a marriage license today. We also believe that the Constitution of the United States of America gives you a different directive. The equal protection clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. We are here until we are served.”