Local residents gathered at Winston Square Park on the evening of June 26 to celebrate a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court issued earlier in the day.
The High Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which defined marriage as being between a man and woman only – unconstitutional. The court similarly found that a 2008 California ballot initiative – Proposition 8 – that barred same-sex unions was unconstitutional.
The DOMA ruling will allow legally married same-sex couples to receive more than 1,000 federal benefits, and Prop 8’s demise cleared the way for same-sex weddings to resume in the Golden State. Contrary to speculation, the rulings did not make gay marriage legal nationwide and does not force states that do not recognize same-sex unions – states like North Carolina – to recognize such marriages that occurred in other states.
But local members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community and their straight allies viewed the rulings as victories nonetheless.
For city native Brent Hodges Morin, who wed his partner Jerry Morin in Washington, D.C. in 2011, the ruling means he and his husband will now be eligible for some governmental protections that heterosexual couples already enjoy, such as the Family Medical Leave Act and Social Security benefits in the event of one partner’s demise.
“It just feels great to be recognized by the leaders of our nation,” said Hodges Morin, who helped to organize Wednesday’s gathering. “The highest court in the land has said, ‘You’re valid and you are worthy and you deserve the same protections as your peers.’”
Rally participants joined in spirited call and response as they left the park to march up Marshall Street and along Fourth Street, proudly waving placards and rainbow flags.
“Justice is on our side,” they proclaimed. “Love won’t be denied.”
It was a poignant moment for city native Rick Frazier, a member of Wentz Memorial United Church of Christ and a representative of Interfaith Voice, a coalition of faith based organizations that welcome LGBT members.
“It has been a struggle; it has been a journey,” commented Frazier, who works in database marketing. “I think anytime the country makes a step in the direction of justice and equality for anyone and everyone, it’s important to celebrate that and acknowledge it.”
Frazier, who is gay, said he is cautiously optimistic that the Supreme Court ruling will have a trickle down effect that will someday inspire North Carolina legislators to take a different tack on marriage equality.
“I’m someone who believes that all of these acts of justice and righteousness kind of build upon one another, and at some point the people will have no choice but to follow along in that path,” commented Frazier, who was accompanied by his mother at the rally. “Every little step in that direction is important.”
City native Amy Donald and her fiancée Bray Taylor were already planning their nuptials prior to the ruling. The women, who have shared their lives for more than three years, said the court’s decision will make their wedding, which is set for Dec. 26 in Washington, D.C., even more meaningful.
“It means a lot to us that we will be afforded many more rights,” commented Donald, a consultant. “…It just makes it more significant.”
Taylor, a second year student at Wake Forest School of Law, said the couple couldn’t pass up the chance to celebrate the good news among friends.
“I wanted to celebrate amongst our family, because these are definitely our family members, and it feels good to be in the company of them,” she said.
Zacatecus, Mexico-born Manuel Garcia said he was thrilled to learn DOMA had been struck down. As an immigrant and member of the LGBT community, Garcia said he has often felt like a second class citizen, but seeing DOMA defeated has given him a glimmer of hope that change is on the horizon.
“I’m so happy,” he declared. “I’m excited.”
Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tyson, co-owners of Sweet Potatoes restaurant and life partners for more than 27 years, hosted a small gathering at their popular downtown eatery Wednesday morning to await the ruling with friends and family members. Joiner described attendees’ reaction as “pretty excited,” adding that there was “a lot of pride” in the room.
“After the neutralization of Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act, it shows that there’s still a moral, just (component) to the fiber of America and equality is equality, whether it’s male, female, black, white or any other group,” she remarked. “…It would be a great thing if North Carolina – the folks that make those laws – would also listen to the people and do the thing that is just and right.”