North Carolina’s first same-sex marriage took place in Wake County on October 10, 2014, the same day a federal judge ruled Amendment 1 unconstitutional and eight months before the U.S. Supreme Court took marriage equality nationwide. 

In hindsight, it’s easy to forget how momentous that day was, how hard decades of activists fought to get there, and how unthinkable the occasion might have been just a few years earlier. Yet in the four and a half years since, thousands of same-sex couples have taken the plunge, everyday weddings that have their own unforgettable moments and eternal memories, everyday marriages that have their own peaks and valleys, struggles and triumphs. What was not so long ago a radical notion has become just another thread in our societal tapestry. (And despite the direst warnings of our evangelical friends, the Almighty has yet to smite us. Someone go tell the United Methodists; see page 10.)  

That was always the goal, right? For a marriage to be a marriage no matter who is married, almost a quotidian thing. But it’s not really a quotidian thing, not for a community that scratched and clawed to get it, not when there are those trying to roll back rights, not when there are battles for equality still to be waged. 

Here, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate marriage equality, to reflect on what it’s meant for so many people. So we asked a few local LGBTQ leaders to share their stories—of marriage, of relationships, of life and death. 

Of love. —Jeffrey C. Billman 

State Representative Allison Dahle

We dedicated our lives to each other after being together for two years, but there was no official commemoration and nothing legal to ensure that she and I would have legal access to each other if needed. I remember when Amendment 1 was being passed and how inhuman my now-wife and I felt. I remember feeling like the fat girl who no one wanted to play with on the playground. I was hurt to the core of my usually happy-go-lucky soul. I could not understand how my state, the state I grew up in, the state that I served as a volunteer in, the state that I was proud to say was my home, could refuse to recognize my love.  I could not see that my love for my wife was any different than that of any other person’s love for their spouse. I am still wounded by Amendment 1 and cringe when I see it listed in the North Carolina Constitution; however, I am eternally grateful to the U.S. Supreme Court for validating my love and validating me as a person. 

My wife and I have been married for five years, going on six, and were together for ten years prior to our marriage. We would have been married much earlier had it not been a problem for some. We were married in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a wonderful weekend of love, fun, and sharing with our family.  

Not only is our marriage made and founded on love, but it is also founded on mutual respect and a promise to each other to make our marriage work. We have had our ups and downs, but we always come back to our love for each other and a desire to make our marriage a strong bond.

State Representative Deb Butler

As a person who was denied the franchise of marriage for all of my life, I found it very easy to dismiss the institution and to criticize it for what I perceived to be its shortcomings. Marriage wasn’t for me. I didn’t need some certificate or the blessing of anyone to validate my commitment and love for Anni.  

Or so I thought.     

But I sure was keenly interested in how the Supreme Court would rule in the Obergefell case and, as the ruling became imminent, I had the SCOTUS blog cued up on my office computer and I hit the refresh button pretty often. As the decision finally arrived, I was sitting alone in my office, and I quickly skipped to the last part and, as I read the words of Justice Kennedy, the tears flowed like rain. He said, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”  

Having married my Anni in 2015 with a hundred friends and family in attendance, I can safely say that my former disdain for the institution was a classic example of sour grapes on my part. To have the blessing of your family, your friends, your community, and your government as you pledge your love and support of another person is the greatest gift of my life. 

As I write these words, I am still reeling from the loss of my Annigirl. She died unexpectedly at fifty-two late last year, but because we were married, I was treated with the dignity and respect of a spouse, not a “friend.” 

Everyone deserves the right to marry. As Justice Kennedy said, “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were … marriage embodies a love that can endure even past death.” 

Truer words were never spoken.

Kendra Johnson, executive director, Equality NC

One night, before I even had an inkling that I was queer, I dreamed the most romantic dream of marrying another woman. We were both dressed in long, white-lace dresses, surrounded by friends and family and, in my dream world, overjoyed with our nuptials. My ease and happiness in that dream made me begin to question my own sexuality and, sure enough, just months later, I discovered that I had fallen in love with a woman. In that small way, marriage equality was an integral part of my coming out and my queer identity—even back in 1989.

Fast-forward thirty years, and I lived to see that catalyst dream become a reality for so many in North Carolina and beyond. While marriage equality is definitely not the end-all-be-all of our work for LGBTQ liberation, watching the Lennies and Pearls have their relationships recognized right here and nationwide feels a lot like justice. Now, even after sixteen years with my partner and two kids later, I haven’t quite made it down the aisle. I don’t need a piece of paper to validate my love or commitment, but I am awfully glad that I now have a choice, rather than merely a romantic dream.

Wake County Commissioner Greg Ford

Late one afternoon in October several years ago, Anthony Pugliese and I were married at sunset on a high cliff on Maui’s western shore. As I write this, memories rush forward of the warm gusts ruffling the flowers of the leis we each wore while the musician played a ukulele and sang “Over The Rainbow”—one of Anthony’s favorites, and now one of mine, too. It was a deeply personal and moving moment for each of us—officially merging our families, friends, and futures together; a personal, public, spiritual, and legal commitment to one another. It wasn’t a beginning, but rather a new highlight in our ever-widening and deepening love and commitment to one another. 

Just like with any other marriage. 

Of course, marriage is much more than a Hawaiian sunset. There are sometimes conflicting egos and wonderful surprises. Joys and disappointments. Celebrations and illnesses. Unparalleled intimacy and shared dreams. Surprising compromises. Hopes and delightful small moments and worries. Are we saving enough? Did you remember to pack the kids’ snacks? And good lord, when was the last time someone cleaned the little box?! But love and commitment and friendship and forgiveness remain, growing with time and memories, and with large doses of laughter. 

Just like with any other marriage. 

I think it’s wonderful that we can celebrate five years of “same-sex marriage” in our country—or as I prefer to call it, “marriage.” I hope people in the future will know that many Americans worked tirelessly to add marriage equality to the long, hard-won history of civil rights expansion in our country—and that they will need to protect and defend those rights just as aggressively. And they should know there will always be people working to erode and eliminate those rights. So as with any relationship, we can’t take success for granted, and we must actively work to strengthen our resolve—and each other. There’s still work to be done. 

Just like with any other marriage.

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