About 250 happy people – including a host of gay and lesbian newlyweds – filled the sanctuary and balcony at an east Charlotte church Monday night to celebrate the arrival, after years of struggle, of legal same-sex marriage in North Carolina.
The crowd at Holy Trinity Lutheran sang hymns of glory, applauded about 20 clergy who had long championed the cause, and listened as two lawyers walked them through the process that led last Friday to a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
But before all that, the Rev. Nancy Kraft, the church’s pastor, welcomed everybody with what sounded like a shout that mixed joy and relief. That brought a standing ovation, then hearty applause, and then some foot-stomping.
“Can you believe this?” Kraft asked, then instructed everybody in the pews to turn to the person next to them, pinch them and say, “It really happened!”
Never miss a local story.
Kraft and others quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous line – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” A few years ago, that belief was a balm to North Carolina gays and lesbians and their supporters as they watched in distress as the state’s legislature and then a majority of its voters approved Amendment One, which affirmed the legal ban on same-sex marriage.
But Monday night, King’s quote was repeated in triumph. “We have been arc-benders together,” Kraft told the crowd, later invoking in a prayer those in the struggle who didn’t live to see the change. “We know they are here today, too.”
Before the service, as the interfaith group of clergy joined hands for prayer, a single protester nearly drowned them out with her exhortations for those inside Holy Trinity to repent.
“This is an abomination to the Lord Jesus Christ,” the lone woman, waving a Bible, said on the sidewalk.
Many of the clergy wore stoles around their necks that were rainbow-colored to acknowledge their solidarity with gay and lesbian members in their flock.
Dotting the church lawn were signs that read “I DO support religious freedom.” Many inside the sanctuary wore buttons saying the same thing.
Before a succession of mini-sermons by the ministers, lawyers Luke Largess and Jake Sussman rose to chart the legal trail that led to Friday’s decision in North Carolina. They were co-lead counsels in a lawsuit filed this year on behalf of houses of worship, clergy and gay couples who opposed the ban on First Amendment, equal protection and due process grounds.
They said the legal battle for same-sex marriage could be traced began back in the 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in two decisions four years apart, struck down state laws that had outlawed use of contraception and interracial marriage.
The crowd took delight and applauded in victory at the mention of same-sex marriage opponents.
“They had the chance to stick it to us,” Largess said, “and now we have stuck it back.”
After Monday’s service, a reception was held. And as is traditional at celebrations of marriage, there was champagne.