Cathy Fry had to pause a moment Saturday to remember the date last year when she wed her longtime partner Joanne Marinaro.
The Huntersville couple had raised two children and had set June 15 as their anniversary – the date nearly 30 years ago they committed to being together forever. They had refused to go out of state to marry, deciding to wait until North Carolina recognized their union – even if that day never arrived.
But it did on Oct. 10, 2014, a Friday, when a federal judge sided with the couple and other plaintiffs in a challenge to the state’s ban against same-sex marriages.
The next Monday, Oct. 13, they gathered with five other couples from their church, Charlotte’s Holy Trinity Lutheran, and were wed by the Rev. Nancy Kraft. Their children, Kaley Fry, 24, and Joseph Fry, 21, were with them.
In the year that has passed since North Carolina’s same-sex ban was lifted, at least 2,939 couples of the same gender have been married in six of the most populous counties. Statewide, the total may be much higher, but North Carolina does not track the number of licenses issued to same-sex couples, and most counties have an incomplete count because applicants are not required to indicate gender on the form.
Many longtime same-sex couples say little has changed with their relationships – they were strong before marriage – except that they have the same rights now as all married couples.
Fry said she and Marinaro did see a change – beyond Fry and their children being allowed to partake in Marinaro’s dental insurance.
“We didn’t really think it would feel different. We thought, ‘this is going to be great; we’re finally going to enjoy all the rights and privileges that other married couples enjoy – that we never had.’” Fry said. “But, you know, internally it felt very different immediately. We’re more secure. More stable.
“We felt we were finally recognized as a couple and not just live-in partners.”
Same-sex marriage remains a divisive issue; the legislature approved a provision this year allowing magistrates to refuse to perform the ceremonies. Just before the session ended in September, lawmakers considered making it illegal for local governments to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Where there are anti-discrimination ordinances, businesses that refuse to provide services – such as baking cakes, arranging flowers or taking photographs – to customers because they’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can face lawsuits. Without such ordinances, those who feel they have been discriminated against have little legal recourse.
The continuing efforts to hinder same-sex marriages disappoints Fry and others.
“We feel we still have a long way to go before people stop trying to fight this,” Fry said. “It’s ridiculous. Hopefully one day it will be over and no one will give same-sex couples getting married in North Carolina a second thought.”
We feel we still have a long way to go before people stop trying to fight this.
Advocates for marriage equality continue to battle with those who hold that marriage should only exist between a man and a woman.
Charlotte nurse Kevin Hindsman’s marriage last year to Aaron Luckey, a Charlotte veternarian, means that Hindsman can pursue becoming the second adoptive parent to their four children, ages 8, 8, 7 and 6. He hopes to stake his legal claim by year’s end.
“That’s about the biggest thing that has changed for us,” said Hindsman. “For eight years, we had no protection for the kids. If anything happened to Aaron, we were at the mercy of DSS and the courts.
“Other than that, nothing has changed as far as how we see each other or see our family. We are a typical family. That license just gives us the same rights as every other married couple.”
Now betrothed couples are planning the weddings they once dared not dream, and professionals in the state’s $1.6 billion industry are deciding whether to accept their money.
Raleigh couple Chris Creech and Chad Biggs, who both worked at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office at the time, were the first same-sex couple to be married in Wake County. But while the vows they took before Chief Magistrate Judge Dexter Williams made official their eight-year union, the brief ceremony left the jubilant couple wishing more of their friends and family members could have been there.
So they did what countless others have done: Last weekend, they followed their courthouse nuptials with a more elaborate celebration with as many of their loved ones as they could afford to feed.
“The first one was for us,” Biggs said a week before the more formal wedding. “This one is to thank all our friends and family for their support and love.”
As a result of their sudden celebrity, they were inundated with offers from vendors who wanted to provide services free or at a discount.
Churches more accepting
As a planner who has handled hundreds of events for other couples, Biggs has a cadre of reliable professionals to fulfill the wedding wishes of brides and grooms. With the advent of marriage equality, he has noted which of those vendors are interested in working with same-sex couples.
Biggs said he was surprised when a photographer declined to shoot his wedding.
To make it easier for couples to find same-sex-friendly vendors, several websites including theknot.com and southernbrideandgroom.com purpleunions.com/usa/northcarolina.html, equalitync.org/marriage/dayone/and engaygedweddings.com/north-carolina-gay-wedding.html, carry ads or lists of caterers, musicians, officiants, venue operators and other providers.
Included are pastors and churches known to welcome LGBT couples who want more than the perfunctory civil ceremony a willing magistrate can provide.
Different denominations and individual churches are still grappling with the question of same-sex marriage.
No basis for lawsuits
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, which led the campaign to pass Amendment One in 2012, said business operators have the right to refuse to provide a service that puts them at odds with their religious or moral convictions. Fitzgerald points to a poll of 600 North Carolina voters by the conservative Civitas Institute in June that found 64 percent of respondents supported the now-overturned amendment.
For those people, she said, opposition to same-sex marriage “is not just a matter of their personal opinion. It’s a matter of their belief in God, who created the universe and, I believe, created men and women to have an exclusive sexual intimacy. It’s a matter of Biblical orthodoxy.”
In a free market, Fitzgerald said, same-sex couples who are turned down by a vendor who doesn’t want to work with them have the option of finding another vendor who does.
With no nationwide or statewide ban on discrimination against LGBT people, and with few local anti-discrimination ordinances in place, couples refused service based on their sexual identity or orientation have no legal basis for lawsuits like those that have been filed in other states. Instead, some use word of mouth or turn to online forums and review sites to complain about their experiences.
Fitzgerald knows of several businesses, she said, “that have had ugly and discriminatory reviews written about them.”
Biggs and Creech declined to publicly identify vendors who said they wouldn’t work with them. Instead, they focused on the generosity and professionalism of those who were part of their celebration.
“It was gorgeous,” Creech said. “To have some of your closest friends and family standing up there with you, sharing that experience with all the people you care about, your family and your friends, that’s what it’s all about.”
David Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
About the numbers
Marriage licenses are issued by Register of Deeds offices in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, using an application form created by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Checking gender boxes on the form is optional.
Most counties have not tracked licenses issued to same-sex vs. opposite-sex couples. The News & Observer asked several of the more populous counties to count licenses issued from Oct. 10, 2014 through late September to couples who indicated they were of the same gender. Here are those results:
Wake: 7,076 licenses issued, at least 664 to same-sex couples. Wake has seen an 11 percent increase in the volume of marriage licenses issued since Oct. 10 compared to the previous year.
Durham: 2,361 licenses issued, at least 271 to same-sex couples
Buncombe: 3,200 licenses issued, at least 649 to same-sex couples.
Guilford: 3,722 licenses issued, at least 421 to same-sex couples
Mecklenburg: 6,490 licenses issued, at least 716 to same-sex couples
Forsyth: 2,265 licenses issued, at least 218 to same sex couples.
Across the state, 68,801 couples were married in 2014, an increase of 4,297 from 2013, according to DHHS. Most of the increase – 3,455 additional marriages – occurred in the last three months of the year, when same-sex marriage had become legal.
Earlier this year, the state legislature approved a provision allowing magistrates to opt out of performing marriages for same-sex couples based on religious or moral objections.
The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts reports that 32 magistrates across 19 counties have recused themselves from performing civil marriages. All four of the magistrates in McDowell County have recused themselves, and magistrates travel from neighboring Rutherford County to perform marriages during certain hours each week.