Monday, January 14, 2013 11:39 PM
Same-sex couples seek marriage licenses
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
Steve Myszak left without a marriage license Monday, but he believes he won’t always have to take no for an answer.
Two same-sex couples sought permission to wed at the Wilson County Register of Deeds office to protest North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage. Myszak lives in Wilson with his partner, Monty Garrish, and their adopted 5-year-old boy, Sonny.
"It evokes an emotional response — partially empowering, because it’s something we can do to go up and request when we know we’re going to be denied,” Myszak said. "We do want to ask. We want people to recognize that we have that right, that we are equal.”
Myszak and Garrish were married July 17 in New York, one of nine states that, along with the District of Columbia, recognizes same-sex marriage. Because of a federal law undergoing legal challenge, North Carolina isn’t required to honor their spousal status.
"Our family, our friends are here,” Myszak said. "Why would we want to leave them? Our employment’s here. This is our home.”
Register of Deeds Lisa Stith met Myszak and Garrish at the customer service counter and listened patiently as they made their case for marriage.
"Unfortunately, at this time North Carolina does not recognize marriage between same-sex couples,” Stith said. "Sorry, I can’t issue you a license at this time.”
Myszak thanked the register of deeds for her professionalism and courtesy.
"Thank you very much,” he said after Stith denied his application. "I understand you’re doing your job.”
Moments later, Wilson residents Sheila Milne and Susan Myers approached Stith hand-in-hand and asked for a marriage license. They’ve been partners for 26 years and have an 11-year-old daughter.
Myers and Milne also were wed out-of-state. Myers said it’s "ridiculous” that their union isn’t recognized in North Carolina.
"Sometimes, we kid each other when we argue and we say, ‘I’m going to take you up to New York and divorce you,’” Myers joked. "You can’t really get divorced here.”
A crowd of supporters marched with the two couples to the register of deeds office and formed a prayer circle on the Wilson County Courthouse’s side lawn. The demonstration is part of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s We Do initiative, which is designed to boost public support for same-sex marriage throughout the Southeast.
In May, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The amendment duplicates a state statute that requires opposite-sex spouses.
"At this time, we have to go by the North Carolina general statutes,” Stith told Milne and Myers. "We have to obey the North Carolina general statutes, and at this time, that’s what it states — marriage is between a male and female. We have to abide by those statutes.”
The federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, prevents states where gay marriage is illegal from having to recognize same-sex unions approved in other states. Several courts have ruled the law unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court is set to hear the case in late March.
President Barack Obama pushed for the law’s repeal, and in 2011, he directed Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice to stop defending the DOMA against legal challenges. Congress may defend the law’s constitutionality in place of the executive branch.
Proposition 8, the ballot measure that California voters passed in 2008 to restrict marriage to one man and one woman in the state constitution, also is on the Supreme Court’s calendar this spring.
Lower courts have overturned the amendment, finding that it violated residents’ rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
Myers predicts that all laws banning same-sex marriage eventually will be overturned, though the process may take decades and some states may be more resistant to change than others.
"I think it will, but anything like this is going to be slow,” she said. "We keep hoping. The time will come, for sure. We feel sure (11-year-old daughter) Cameron will see it.”
Support for same-sex marriage has increased over the past two decades, but the issue remains divisive. A Gallup poll conducted last May found that 50 percent of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal and 48 percent believe it should be illegal.
"I think whenever you bring a face and a story to the table that helps enlighten other people, the stories are going to change a person’s mind or at least help them open up to new ideas,” Myszak said.
While Myers believes federal and state governments should treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally, she said she supports churches’ First Amendment right to oppose gay marriage and to refuse to perform wedding ceremonies.
"I believe people have the right to have their beliefs,” she said. "If their belief is against it, I believe that their church should be able to say, ‘We don’t recognize same-sex marriage.’”
EQUAL RIGHTS RALLY
More than two-dozen people joined Myszak and Garrish and Milne and Myers as they walked to the register of deeds office. They cheered and applauded when the couples emerged and walked across North Goldsboro Street to St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church for a brief prayer meeting.
"Today, we gather to resist laws we believe to be unjust and also to show love and reconciliation for those who support those laws and those whose job it is to enforce them,” Minister Douglas S. Long of Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh said outside the register of deeds office.
The Campaign for Southern Equality sponsored We Do rallies in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina this month. The nonprofit group left Wilson for Winston-Salem, where same-sex couples also sought permission to wed Monday.
"It is going to take everything we’ve got to change the law in our country,” said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of Asheville, the group’s executive director. "But history has taught us that change comes when real people take action in the towns they live in.”
Beach-Ferrara expects to see a considerable increase in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the American Southeast.
"This is about as grassroots as a movement can be,” she said. "It is literally growing one person at a time, one conversation at a time. These actions may not change the law right away, but they are having an impact.”
Beach-Ferrara said the Campaign for Southern Equality plans to return to Wilson for more campaigns designed to raise support for same-sex marriage.
Myers said the goal of leaving the office with a marriage license isn’t the only reason to apply for one. She believes her request for equal rights and the graciousness with which she accepts the denial might help change people’s minds.
"We’ve got to keep doing this,” she said on the courthouse lawn. "It’s 30 seconds of Lisa Stith’s life. She’ll go home and she’ll have to think about it.”
Myers and Milne said despite North Carolina’s legal inequities, she doesn’t feel like her home is a hostile place for same-sex couples.
"This is a great community,” Myers said. "We have a wonderful community of friends, gay and straight, who support us.”
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Way to go RI. Soon to become the 10th state plus DC.
Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Way to go RI. Soon to become the 10th state plus DC.
Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 10:49 PM
that is why S. court are appointed for life no political pressure. Get over it.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 12:08 AM
In 1991, I watched 300 people - all identifying as Christians at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, meeting in Norfolk, VA - rally in a public protest against Virginia's CAN ("Crimes Against Nature") laws. I knew I was watching history being made and I openly wept. I'd never known so many Christians, mostly non-gay, come together and speak out against discrimination toward lgbt people. So much has changed since then. Today, we watched history once again...the President of the United States addressing our "gay brothers and sisters" and the call for equality; the placing of Stonewall alongside Seneca Falls and Selma; of speaking for the love that is no different in commitment between a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple. I cried. Thank-you, Mr. President. Thank-you to every courageous lgbt person who's come out to themselves and/or family, co-workers, neighbors, church members, etc. Thank-you to everyone who's marched at PRIDE. Thank-you to Open & Affirming faith communities that publicly announce their welcome and advocacy (my own congregation has a rainbow flag beside its sign and again at the door), thank-you to PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians & Gays), thank-you to legislators, judges, and preachers who've spoken on behalf of those who cannot yet speak. I cannot thank-you enough; I weep at the history being made and in so doing, am humbled to be part of it. I relate to MLK, Jr. and all oppressed, spat-upon peoples, their courage, their willingness to go to the grave that all may be free. Let us continue in the work to set all free...we shall overcome, we will not give up the fight we have just begun, we'll walk hand in hand one day. Mine eyes have seen the glory! Hallelujah, Amen!
Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 10:51 PM
A May 10 USA Today/Gallup Poll, taken one day after Barack Obama became the first sitting President to express support for same-sex marriage,showed 51% of Americans agreed with the President's endorsement, while 45% disagreed.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 10:21 PM
“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.” ~ President Obama
Monday, January 21, 2013 at 4:33 PM