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Image courtesy of Reuters

In May of 2012, my partner (who I refer to as my husband although we are not legally married despite having had the big white wedding in October of 2011) and I participated for the first time in the Campaign for Southern Equality’s We Do action. I wrote about it here. January 14, 2013, found us once again standing in front of the county court clerk applying for a marriage license.

The answer, again, was no.

This year’s action was part of Stage 4. The We Do Campaign travel team accompanied LGBTQ couples from seven southern states as they applied for, and were denied, marriage licenses in an attempt to work toward federal marriage equality. They are a tireless team of dedicated individuals who work in the most grassroots of organizations—their home base is a small donated office space and they are more likely to be found sacking out on the floor of a farm house in Tennessee than in a hotel room at the Hilton.

I had this crazy notion that, because we had done this once before, this January action would be easier. I would be less nervous, less anxious, less emotional. It isn’t easier the second time around.

I knew what was coming. I knew that, because the state of North Carolina passed an amendment in 2012 banning same sex marriage (or even civil unions), that Li and I would be denied our request for a marriage license. We do this because we’ll be denied. That’s the whole reason behind the action. That’s why we call it an action.

But Li and I are in an interesting position. Li is in transition from female to male. As of January 2013, he still had not legally changed his name to Liam and despite the burgeoning facial hair and almost baritone voice (recorded for posterity on the evening news that night), the driver’s license he presented is for “Lisa.” Without the funds to cover what we like to refer to as gender affirmation surgery, Li is not yet eligible to change his gender marker.

But by the time the next action rolls around the driver’s license he presents may well have an “M” where the “F” now stands and the name will be changed from “Lisa” to “Liam.”

And with those two small changes, our request for a marriage license will be approved.

Can you imagine? We are the same two people. We are, for all intents and purposes, currently considered a same sex couple and so we are not allowed to get married in this state. But if the social security office and the DMV recognizes him as male then the state of North Carolina will suddenly, magically, grant us a marriage license.

We are still the same two people.

It would be lovely if we no longer felt such a need to participate in these actions. It would be lovely if they were no longer required. However, I imagine that there will at least be one more. And when that happens, we plan to be there. We will march the several blocks to government center again, faces grave and hands clasped tightly together, hearts beating wildly in anticipation. We will stand outside the clerk’s office once again and watch as our fellow volunteers enter with hopeful smiles and come out crestfallen with tearstained cheeks. We will walk hand-in-hand as we approach the desk, once again surrounded by loved ones, dedicated support staff, and hungry media. We will once again slide our request for a marriage license across the desk and when asked for our proof of identification we will place it in front of the clerk and he or she will inspect it–the “no” already forming on the lips suddenly becomes a “Why yes, we can grant you a license in the state of North Carolina.” And they take our information and they present us with that simple slip of paper that will entitle us, too, the 1100 federal rights that come with legal recognition of our marriage.

And we will smile. And we will hold each other tighter. And we will say, “We’re sorry, but we cannot accept this. Six months (or a year) ago, you would not grant us this license because then we presented as a same sex couple. Now we present as male and female and you approve us? We will not accept this license until every one of the couples here can leave with one as well.”

And we will wait. The “no” will be that much more bittersweet but we will have proved a point. We will be the same two people, having known and loved each other for nearly 30 years; two people who parent a child and maintain a home and pay taxes and are active in the church and community at large; two people who have been recognized as married by friends and loved ones but have not been entitled to the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts. We will be the same two people. Within a day of one gender marker change, we will be eligible for all those rights. I find this sad, frightening, absurd, and bordering on the laughable.

We will wait because no matter the gender marker, we are all human beings. We are all just people who love each other and trust that our love is as important as that of the next couple. Marriage should not be based on whether a couple looks “normal” or not; appears to be “one of us.” Federal marriage equality should be allowed because it is a right and we are all guaranteed the same rights under the law as citizens of the United States. We are human and we are equal.

We are the still the same.