Marriage equality proponents see history as on their side
Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber (right) of High Point celebrated 45 years as a couple at a vigil in Greensboro. (photo by Jordan Green)
Lennie Gerber, a High Point lawyer, reflected during a protest on Monday evening against plans to place a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, on the changes that she has seen in the 45 years she has been with her partner, Pearl Berlin.
No longer are water fountains designated for colored and for white. Beaches in the states of the former Confederacy no longer ban Jews. The Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage and ruled that all adults had “an equal right to intimate, consensual, sexual conduct” with the person of their choice. “Today we rejoice over the latest change, which is that in a matter of days openly gay and lesbians will be allowed to serve in the military,” she said. “In other words, in our lifetime together we saw great movement toward the equality of all persons.”
Then Gerber beckoned for Berlin to join her on the steps at Governmental Plaza in downtown Greensboro.
“We are here together to continue our fight for civil rights and this time on our behalf – on behalf of the gay and lesbian and transgendered community,” Gerber said.
The two women kissed, drawing cheers from a couple hundred people gathered for the event organized by Equality NC. The event’s Facebook page indicated that 405 people planned to attend.
“We stand here today telling the people of North Carolina: Don’t forget the bedrock principle of our society – the one that Pearl and I saw come to a legal fruition during our 45 years together – the principle that all of us deserve equal treatment under the law, and that includes the same right to marry…” Berlin chimed in: “The person we love….” “… As everybody else has,” Gerber concluded, “straight or gay.”
They kissed once more, and Berlin raised her cane in defiance.
Other speakers at the gathering also referenced the fight against enshrining a prohibition against same-sex marriage in the state constitution as a continuation of the civil rights struggle.
Nia Martin Robinson, who introduced herself as the activist in residence at Bennett College, said, “I stand here today on the shoulders of countless black women who have fought tirelessly for the right to be treated as and seen as human beings. And for much of our history in this country black women have had our humanity stripped from us, our freedoms taken away by denying us ownership over our bodies and the ability to fully establish and safely establish our own families.
“From slavery and miscegenation laws and Jim Crow laws, black women’s right to choose when, where, why and how we love has been taken away by the state and federal laws of this country,” Robinson continued. “The destruction of our families and the destruction of our lives has been state sanctioned. And for me, as a black, queer woman, I see the opposition of state Senate Bill 106 and House Bill 777 as a denial of humanity and a continuation of the legacy of hatred and bigotry that has plagued this country for too long.”
Bishop Donagrant McCluney, a pastor at Progressive Pentecostal Church of the Triad, was one of many clergy members who pleaded against the proposed constitutional amendment.
“If they pass it, how many of you are going to break up with the one you love?” he asked. “How many of you are going to back in the closet? I’m not. And I’m not going to go to New York. I’m going to stay in Greensboro, North Carolina.”