Nancy Barrineau and Bonnie Kelley remember walking into the print shop in downtown Laurinburg as excited as they had ever been together. They’d been living as a couple for about 17 years, but that autumn a federal judge had struck down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. Now it was time to order wedding invitations.
It would be a ceremony in their home for about 50 friends, officiated by the pastor of the Lutheran church where they’d felt so welcome. Guests would include friends from UNC Pembroke, where they had met years before and where both had won teaching awards from the university system – Bonnie in biology, Nancy in English.
They set the date for Thanksgiving weekend, so Nancy’s daughter could come down from Kentucky.
For the invitations, they wanted to use a local business, so they went to Woody’s Printing and Copy Shop, a longtime fixture on Laurinburg’s Main Street. Woody Pierce, a Baptist minister, had owned the shop for some 20 years.
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They remember a “cold” response from the woman who waited on them. Finally Bonnie asked: “Does it matter to you that this is a same-sex wedding?” “That’s up to you,” they recall the woman saying. They placed their order and left.
When they got home, the phone was ringing. It was Woody Pierce, the shop’s owner, calling to cancel the order.
Nancy remembers him repeating: “You have to understand, I’m a Christian pastor.”
“And I kept saying, ‘No, I’m sorry, I don’t understand,’ ” Nancy remembers. “We just went in a loop.”
For Nancy and Bonnie, elation had turned to anger. “We knew people disapproved,” Nancy said. “But we thought this was a business transaction.”
Pierce has since retired and his store combined with another local business. He and his wife, Joyce Pierce, who waited on Nancy and Bonnie, say the couple were treated respectfully. “We did not mistreat anyone,” Woody Pierce said. “Nobody was cold to them.”
He said his response to the couple grew out of sincere religious beliefs: “Being a religious person, I follow the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ.”
Would he react the same way again? That’s hypothetical, he said, since he’s now retired. But after “really thinking about the situation, and meditating about it,” he said, he’s since concluded he’d treat such a couple like any other customer. “I don’t know that treating them like a regular customer would go against my religious beliefs.”
Nancy and Bonnie ended up getting invitations online through a site called Zazzle. And they encountered no more pushback over their wedding – the florist, the register of deeds, and their wide circle of friends all treated them warmly, they say.
And on Nov. 29, 2014, in front of the big bay window in their den, 50 people crowded in to watch Nancy and Bonnie say their vows. The organist from their church played the piano and there was a champagne toast.
Nancy and Bonnie, both now retired from UNC Pembroke, still enjoy their close friends in Laurinburg – where their circle of local acquaintances includes no other openly gay people. Nancy says they still sometimes encounter “snubs and silence” when they speak out on issues such as North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which limits protections for LGBT individuals.
But when she and Bonnie spoke at a vigil at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg for the 49 people killed in a June attack at a gay club in Orlando, the two were surprised at the healthy turnout.
“I do think society is changing,” Nancy said. “But slowly.”