by Jordan Green
When a federal judge in Asheville finally struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina, it seemed so inevitable as to be anticlimactic.
Despite the last-minute appeal, there was a clear path to get here: The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Virginia earlier this year striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage followed North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s announcement that he would no longer defend the state law and the city of Winston-Salem’s decision to recognize marriages performed out of state. When the US Supreme Court, on Oct. 6, decided it would not hear appeals to the Fourth Circuit ruling, the deed was all but done.
In another sense, the events of the past year seemed breathtakingly rapid.
Even as opponents like state House Speaker Thom Tillis acknowledged in 2012 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage would eventually be overturned in light of generational shifts in attitude, as a matter of conventional wisdom it seemed that the process of change would play out over a couple decades, not a couple years.
On another level, the ruling after 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10 by Judge Max Cogburn seemed hopelessly late, a delayed echo of where most of us have been for years. It makes me sad and angry that some North Carolinians, particularly politicians attempting to capitalize on bigotry, have seen fit to impede the rights of citizens to the enjoyment of privacy and equal treatment under the law in their relationships.
Gay marriage seems so utterly normative.
No different than my own heterosexual marriage to a woman who happens to be of a different race than me. I can’t forget that prior to the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in the Loving v. Virginia decision, our union was against the law and subject to criminal penalties in states across the US South. Our marriage, in 2010, was roundly celebrated by not only our own families and friends, but by members of the community at large, both progressive and conservative.
No one has ever expressed disapproval to me, on either political or moral grounds. I think it’s simply accepted that individuals have the right to love one another, solemnize marriages and start families together, no matter what the race of the partners. The idea that anyone would try to impede that would be considered intrusive, bigoted and counterproductive. I can only imagine that in 47 years, we’ll look back on opposition to same-sex marriage in a similar light.
Anticipating the historic decision on Oct. 10, I thought back to how my life has been enriched by gay friends and how my views of same-sex marriage have been shaped.
My dad explained same-sex attraction to me as an 8-year-old as we traveled by train to San Francisco to visit one of his old friends, Sean, who is gay. Years later, at the age of 18, I moved to San Francisco and lived with Sean for a couple months before I got my own place. His roommate, Fritz, took me to a punk show at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley and to a Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco.
In college, I gravitated to the butch dykes on campus, relating to their stylish and tough fashion sense and love of Patsy Cline. Lizard, a lesbian from New Hampshire, and I became inseparable friends. We talked shared reminiscences about crushes, drank together and got arrested together in a civil disobedience to protest cuts to education and social services, and police brutality.
Here in Greensboro, two gay friends at the Episcopal church I attend who had been in a stable, loving relationship for years were married by our priest. That was seven years ago. I can think of at least two other gay marriages solemnized without the sanction of the state of North Carolina since then. And in the past 12 months I’ve witnessed a flurry of Facebook announcements of couples solemnizing their same-sex marriages in Virginia and New York, and then returning to North Carolina to live.
Many things can be said of the last-minute effort by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis to stall gay marriage in North Carolina. It displayed a failure to respect the law and a wasteful use of public funds on behalf of many state taxpayers who don’t agree with their position. It made a certain amount of political sense for Berger, who is seeking re-election in a conservative district. For Tillis, who is running statewide in a US Senate race, the maneuver looks like a desperate play for base voters in an election in which he’s given up on appealing to independents and moderates.
When I interview elected officials, I try to see the human being behind the misguided positions. But I wonder if they see the human beings behind the gay persons whose lives they are trying to legislate for political gain. I don’t think history will look kindly on them.