When will the first same-sex couple try to be married here in North Carolina--legally married, that is, with an official marriage license?
Soon. Very soon.
Last week, we reported that the registers of deeds in Wake, Durham and Orange counties all said that no gay or lesbian couples had applied to them for a marriage license. (All said they'd be obligated, because of the state's Defense of Marriage Act, to reject such an application.) Activists were focused on the anti-gay measures the upcoming General Assembly session will consider, not on weddings like the ones in San Francisco and, more recently, Bruce Springsteen's favorite place, Asbury Park, N.J.
The way the gay-rights movement is picking up speed, however, seven days ago is a previous era. Since then, an ad hoc group calling itself the Triangle Freedom to Marry Coalition, comprised of members from the major gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations, has emerged to say that it's planning a "big event" in April, in Raleigh.
What will this big event be? They're not making a formal announcement, but the back-channel email traffic suggests that it's going to be dressy, held in a park, and the theme will be love--love and equal rights. Tentative date: April 29.
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here, because many details remain to be settled--including the identity of the bride(s) and/or groom(s), if any. And, as with any coalition, we're told, there are major differences of opinion about how confrontational the "ceremonies" should be. If there's to be a wedding, or weddings, one activist said, the issue also arises of putting the coalition's "best feet forward." He cited the example of Rosa Parks, who was selected and trained by civil rights leaders in Montgomery, Ala., to be the one who refused to move to the back of the bus. Coalition leaders are looking for similarly solid couples to carry the gay mantle in public.
Small groups are meeting in churches around the Triangle, and Equality NC, a coalition member, is holding a "town hall meeting on marriage equality" on Wednesday, March 24, at 7 p.m. at St. John's Metropolitan Community Church, 805 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, that may help to hash out the plans. It's one of a series of such meetings Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign is holding all over the state.
Equality NC also led the effort that resulted on Tuesday in a victory for gay rights in the Raleigh City Council. The Council voted 5-3 to adopt a new mission statement for the Raleigh Human Relations Commission, an advisory committee, that allows it to advocate for "all people," regardless of their "sexual orientation," among many other things.
A Council committee last week caused a stir when two of its three members balked at including the words "sexual orientation" in the mission statement. With Councilors Mike Regan and Philip Isley ready to vote no, and only Councilor Thomas Crowder in favor, HRC members decided to withdraw the language--temporarily. But Tuesday, the full Council restored it, with Mayor Charles Meeker and Councilors Janet Cowell, James West and Jessie Taliaferro joining Crowder in the 5-3 majority. "Our city simply has no place for intolerance and prejudice," Meeker said. Regan, Isley and Neal Hunt voted no.
The Triangle Freedom to Marry Coalition formed about six months ago, according to one of its organizers, Chantelle Fisher-Borne of Durham, in response to the decisions in Canada and by the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognizing gay marriage as a constitutional right. Meetings are drawing 60-70 people now, and the group is ready to start mobilizing bigger numbers at the grass-roots level, Fisher-Borne says. But they know this isn't Massachusetts, and the North Carolina Supreme Court is anything but gay-friendly.
"The question is, do we undertake [legal] action just to get turned down?" she says. "On the other side, there's a lot of energy, and the idea that people in North Carolina, because we're not in Massachusetts or California, we can't do good work here--I completely reject that."
So Fisher-Borne, a public health researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill, who was "illegally married" to her partner by a minister four years ago, says the coalition is working with ministers to organize an event that will "be about love and equal rights, period," and not about generating a court case that's likely to flop. That means asking Wake Register of Deeds Laura Riddick for a license, but not suing her when she refuses. "We want to bring a little more heart into the picture," she said. "Stories need to be told about the people involved who love each other," Fisher-Borne thinks. "That's the work to be done, particularly in the South."
So, put aside, for the moment, those e-mails about "the ornate flourishings of a traditional Southern wedding"--that one, by the way, was penned by Indy contributor Randall Williams. But just in case, you might want to call your florist.