Yesterday Liam and I participated in our third We Do Campaign action for the Campaign for Southern Equality. You can read about our participation in two earlier stages here and here. Recently, clerks in such places as New Mexico and Pennsylvania have been issuing marriage licenses despite the fact that their individual states do not sanction same-gender marriages (New Mexico neither approves nor prohibits them and Pennsylvania is not legally recognizing the marriage licenses issued in spite of state laws). Here in North Carolina, we have added Amendment One to the books, in spite of the tireless lobbying against it. Amendment One makes any kind of same-gender union illegal in this state. The Campaign for Southern Equality seeks, in this stage, to engage a clerk of court, bring them into our experience, and encourage them to stand with us in an act of conscience and award a marriage license to a same-gender couple. We hoped to be that couple.
In anticipation of our action, Liam wrote a beautiful and heartfelt letter to the clerk of courts here in Forsyth County requesting that we be granted a marriage license. Although the answer was a resounding and precipitating “no”, we still prayed that, when we got to the desk and actually presented our story to the clerk, our no would become a “yes”. Wishful thinking.
Our action took place early in the morning and we arrived at the public staging area at 8:15. We were greeted with hugs and an overwhelming amount of love and respect from friends; some live locally but others drove from the far reaches of our state and from South Carolina to support us and the We Do Campaign. Our incredible friends from Gender Benders got themselves up at 2:30 a.m. to make the 3 hour journey. My heart skipped a beat to bear witness to the support of our friends. After greetings, we filled out our license application alongside the other couple, our friends L Rankin and Kristin Hedin (who would also be requesting a license in the action). The inimitable Reverend Jasmine Beach Ferrara gathered us into a small circle and gave voice to our prayers and wishes for the day’s event.
The group at large circled up and prayers were spoken by the clergy present. Our own UCC pastor was in attendance (his third time accompanying us as well), along with two of our very good friends from the UU church in Asheville, NC (a couple who had participated in a We Do Campaign action in the last stage). My heart was racing as we queued up to head into the registry of deeds and I clung tightly to Li’s hand.
Liam and I do not talk about what we are planning to say prior to each action. I generally let Li do the talking as I tear up and well over when speaking on issues that hit close to home. As a pastor and educator, he is used to public speaking and does so well and eloquently. This was no exception. We approached the desk (taking note of a heterosexual couple applying for their own license at the next counter), and before Li would make a request, he retained our licenses and asked the clerk (a nervous smile plastered on her kind face, she was clearly steeled for the onslaught) to hear our story.
I cannot tell you exactly what he said to her. I remember her face. I remember the fact that she never once broke eye contact during the telling of it. I remember hearing not unkind laughter from the couple next to us. I remember the feeling that the support group behind me radiated love and affection and had our backs. I remember that Li did not identify himself as a member of the trans* community and being surprised about that. (One of the things we wanted to focus on was the fact that when his gender marker changes—one initial on a driver’s license—our outcome in these actions will automatically change as well; which just proves how ludicrous these laws actually are. We will be the same couple that has stood at that counter and been denied three times.) And I remember screwing up my courage, looking into her eyes and that frozen smile (after already having been told “no”) and saying to her “Your job is to grant joy to loving couples every day. Would you deny us that joy?”
The answer was the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot issue you a marriage license at this time.”
I don’t know why I thought these actions would get easier as time goes on. You’d think we’d be old hat at this and it would be no big deal. The truth is that it gets much more difficult. The fact that we are second-class citizens is thrown into the harsh light of day. The fact that the majority of my home state chose to discriminate against me and went so far as to put a constitutional amendment on the books banning me from legally solidifying my marriage to the person I love is staggering. We turned from the desk and I walked out, ahead of Li, and into the loving arms of a friend who literally held me up as I my breath caught and my chest heaved. I had no control over the sobs that escaped me and clung to her as other friends rushed over with tissues and comfort. My heart shattered and I was left feeling very much less than.
Less than the couple that left before us, smiling and on their way to lifelong recognition of their marriage. Less than respected. Less than a citizen. Less than human.
The remainder of the morning was filled with prayer, support, love, friendship, coffee, and a few interviews with local news agencies that never made it into print. I awoke this morning to a text informing me that my photo was plastered all over the local newspaper’s website. I have yet to see a print version, so I’ve no idea whether our action warranted ink or not.
In the end, we accomplished a great deal. We made a connection with someone who is in a position to make a difference. We told our story, publicly and honestly, and asked her to see us as worthy of the same human rights as our heterosexual counterparts. We looked into her eyes and she looked back at us. She “saw” us. While we were not granted equality at this time, my prayer continues to be that someone, somewhere, will come out from behind that counter and say “Yes, I will grant you the right to marry your partner. The laws are unjust, you are hurting no one in so doing, and I want to stand on the side of love.” The action continues and we will pray for just such a day.