For pure, unbridled optimism, you can’t beat a wedding announcement. The couple is golden. Their future is whatever they want it to be. You’re invited to imagine it with them. On Monday, we in North Carolina were treated to such an announcement. Soon, it told us, perhaps very soon, same-sex couples will be permitted to marry here—marry legally—and enjoy the same lovely outlook as any different-sex couple.
That’s what the decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond meant. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper grasped its import immediately. North Carolina’s odious Amendment One, which in 2012 added a ban to our state constitution against the recognition of same-sex unions, is now invalid as a matter of federal constitutional law.
Cooper, whose office defended Amendment One against multiple court challenges despite his personal opposition to it, said that in light of the Fourth Circuit ruling, he can no longer defend it—because it’s legally indefensible.
“Simply put,” he said, “it is time to stop making arguments we will lose.”
I’ll bet that felt good.
Not quite as good as Cara Wittekind and Jen Isherwood were feeling at an event in Durham that night to celebrate the decision.
Ages 27 and 26, respectively, the couple will be married in Durham in October. When I met them—they’re friends of a friend’s daughter—they were beaming in that way that engaged couples do, finishing each other’s sentences, talking excitedly about the upcoming first meeting of their parents and declaring their mutual intention to make North Carolina their home for many years to come.
Isherwood is from the Jersey Shore. She moved to North Carolina four years ago for graduate school. “I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do,” she said.
Wittekind grew up in North Carolina and never wanted to leave. “I believe in my state,” she said. “I believe in the people of my state.”
How much of this was about the Fourth Circuit and how much about being in love, I couldn’t say.
Full stop, because for the time being, the law is unchanged in North Carolina. The appeals court ruling was in a Virginia case, and though the ruling applies also in North Carolina and several surrounding states, the Virginia case is certain to be appealed further, the ruling is likely to be stayed and in any event the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say on whether states can ban same-sex unions.
So as things stand, when Wittekind and Isherwood are married in Durham, their marriage probably won’t be recognized by North Carolina, and they may decide to journey to New Jersey to be legally wed. But they may not, because they’re optimistic that by October, their marriage will be recognized here as well.
Yes, nothing’s changed, but everything is changing and fast when it comes to LGBT rights, which is why the hundreds celebrating at Motorco were pinching themselves to be sure they weren’t dreaming.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who is gay, stood on a picnic bench and shouted how angry he was two years ago when Amendment One was approved by the voters.
Kleinschmidt spoke at UNC-Chapel Hill the next day and declared that Amendment One must not stand. How angry was he? So angry, he said, that he quoted a favorite, but up-to-then never publicly employed phrase he learned from Latrice Royale, a TV drag queen.
“When you get knocked down,” Kleinschmidt told us, giving the crowd his best Royale imitation, “you get yourself up, dust yourself off, look sickening”—at this, he dropped his hands in a draping motion —“and tell them to eat it.”
I know that felt good, because we were laughing about it later.
Later, Lydia Lavelle, the mayor of Carrboro, spoke. She’s a law professor at N.C. Central University and North Carolina’s first openly lesbian mayor. She read from the Fourth Circuit’s decision.
- Photo by Bob Geary
- From left, Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt
That was fun.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell arrived and the three mayors posed for pictures.
I think Cooper is right to predict that Amendment One will be struck down soon. The Supreme Court, when it ruled last year that the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] was unconstitutional, did so in such unmistakable terms that, since then, 14 out of 14 federal courts have used it to rule against state bans such as ours.
Now, the Supreme Court will either refuse to hear appeals from these rulings or, more likely, it will take up the issue again and declare once and for all that state bans against same-sex unions belong in the dustbin with the federal DOMA.
The lesson for us? First, equal rights for all means all, regardless of race, gender or who it is that you love. Second, as we anguish over the policies of the conservatives who run our state, we can be optimistic that their time is short and our future bright.
I spoke with Ed Crabtree, a Durham man who married his male partner of 15 years two weeks ago in Washington, DC. Crabtree is 53. He came out when he was 36, he said.
Before he came out, he never imagined being married, nor even that he could settle down with a loving partner. His partner is a Canadian citizen. Their marriage is the first step to his being able to return to the U.S. after a forced relocation to Canada—after which, unable to find a teaching job in Canada, he moved on to Egypt. “Our travel bills are atrocious,” Crabtree said, enjoying the night.
“It does seem now that things are happening at breakneck speed,” Crabtree remarked. “I hear the other side saying they must pray for God’s intervention. I think God has intervened.”