Marriage equality supporters press forward

by Eric Ginsburg

If anyone thought approving the constitutional amendment would put an end to marriage equality efforts in North Carolina, the quick actions of residents across the state have already proved them wrong.

Before all the votes were counted, Lamar Gibson started planning a march and rally on Facebook. He hoped a few dozen people would come out and talk about what to do next. Instead, despite strong rain throughout the day, about 200 people came.

“There are plenty of people who are involved who have a sense that this is something we have to be in for the long haul, and I wanted to remind people of that,” Gibson said.

He received help from Isabell Moore, who came up with the idea to invite attendees to call out people and organizations they wanted to honor for their work. The Greensboro-based National Conference for Community & Justice is among Gibson’s list of inspirations, particularly its Anytown camp.

“Anytown changed how I saw the world,” said Gibson, who was also a counselor there. “That was the catalyst for me beginning to confront my less-accepting ways.”

Conference director Susan Feit addressed the crowd at the rally, and like a number of other speakers she said it was important to have tough conversations with people who don’t necessarily agree.

“We did succeed in creating a lot of alliances and a lot of discussion,” she told the crowd.

The event began and ended with a rally and speakers, sandwiching a march through downtown that picked up countless people along the way. During the two shout-out segments, people thanked anti-amendment organizers such as Will Robinson, Laurelyn Dossett and the NAACP. A teacher mentioned her students who were there, and others highlighted the city Greensboro City Council, their coworkers and family members who supported them, churches and religious leaders such as Julie Peeples and numerous others.

“Yesterday just felt obscenely wrong that we were voting on the rights of others,” Peeples said in a post May 9. “Today, though tired, I feel deeply grateful for the risks so many have taken and the love and creative energy shown. And, I feel very, very hopeful. We will build on what has started. Justice and love will win.”

Tiffany Holland, who has been with her partner for 12 years, agreed, saying it was time to push out of the bubble. She told the crowd she talked to many older black people while canvassing at East Washington Elementary on election day, and said she was happy to hear most were voting against it.

“A very small majority of North Carolina voted this in,” Holland said, referring to the voter turnout numbers. “This should not have even been on the ballot.”

It seems many opponents were surprised the margin between the sides was so large, even those who thought it would pass.

“I am an idealistic person, but I had no idea [the vote would be] that extreme,” said Molly McGinn, who participated in a series of “Vote Against Amendment One” music videos. “We do live in a pretty tolerant bubble. It’s very hard for me to wrap my head around.”

Yet the day after, McGinn was already headed to Elon University to play for students so they could grieve and begin to heal. Like Gibson, McGinn said she grew more active on the issue through conversations and personal connections.

“A year ago I wasn’t saying anything about this at all,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to really go forward unless we have those conversations. [The ministers] have really modeled how to have a conversation. For some people this is the first time they’ve ever talked about gay anything.”

Sara Pearson-Moyers said she isn’t sure what to do next, besides working to repeal the amendment and trying to support people who will be negatively impacted by it, both financially and emotionally.

“I think a lot of people thought it wouldn’t pass, but we’re moving forward as a country,” she said. “Our state is better than that — it hurts people and takes their rights away.” Pearson-Moyers said she knows people who will be directly affected, and stood with them against the amendment because she knows it’s wrong and because she would expect them to stand with her if she was being discriminated against as a woman or any other way.

Frank Eaton, the former creative director for the state Democratic Party and Winston-Salem resident, said he had expected the amendment to pass, so he recorded a video encouraging proponents of marriage equality to keep fighting and to focus on voting out the politicians who supported the amendment, particularly defeating the Republican gubernatorial nominee Pat Mc- Crory. In less than two days, the video received over 20,000 hits.

“Opponents won’t go away, and will be fired up,” Eaton said. “Politics works in these waves, and they just made us angry. You’re going to have a lot of pro-equality voters coming out in November. [McCrory and Phil Berger’s] worst nightmare is that we pin this to them, but their fingerprints are all over it.”

Eaton was at a Protect All NC Families event in Raleigh on election night, and said as a straight ally, it was heartbreaking to see the pain on people’s faces that will be most directly impacted.

What he didn’t expect was that President Obama would announce his personal support of same-sex marriage the day after the vote in North Carolina.

“There is just no way to overstate what that meant, even those of us who were disappointed he didn’t say something earlier,” Eaton said. “It allows the fight for marriage equality to claim political viability. He gives Democrats across the spectrum political cover to be in favor of marriage equality.”

UNCG senior Caleb Patterson, who organized against the amendment, said there would be a big push to have marriage equality as part of the Democratic platform at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

“To see the president come out and support marriage equality the next day made the sting go away a little bit,” Patterson said.

Now that the amendment campaign is over, he said marriage equality proponents here could go on the offensive. Patterson expects to see numerous court cases on the issue, as well as a concerted push to get pro-amendment legislators out of office.

Holland said at the rally that it was time to go on the offensive too, voting people out and fighting for things people needed like universal healthcare and a living wage, to which the rally erupted in support.

The fight has already begun to move forward, Patterson said, noting that a second march against the amendment was already planned.

“Hopefully some of the rage that we saw on Facebook will translate to people trying to defeat McCrory,” he said.

The response already extends beyond the courtroom, streets and ballot boxes. Richard Caban-Cubero and Christian Velasquez Acevedo at Parkland Magnet High School in Winston-Salem initiated a “Wear White 4 Rights” armband campaign to show their opposition to the amendment.

Acevedo told the “Greensboro Against Amendment One” Facebook group that they heard from people as far as Brazil and Australia who planned to participate, as well as throughout the United States.

Opposition immediately continued in other parts of North Carolina as well, with three same-sex couples attempting to have their relationships and out-of-state marriage licenses recognized in Durham the following day. An online petition to repeal the amendment quickly gained more than 133,000 signatures, with more people signing regularly.

While many amendment opponents were left feeling upset and dejected, they aren’t accepting defeat. Like Eaton, Ed Whitfield said amendment supporters had galvanized opponents.

“They did something they didn’t plan to do,” Whitfield said at the rally. “They have helped to assemble this force, and it is a force to be reckoned with. We will see victory in the future.”