[Ed. Note: This article was originally published online on Oct. 14, 2014, 8:19 a.m. It has been updated and republished in our Oct. 24, 2014, print edition.]
The choral strains of Handel’s iconic “Hallelujah” and an organist’s rendition of Widor’s classic toccata wedding processional rounded out an historic day of marriage equality in the Queen City on Oct. 13, as hundreds gathered at a community-wide celebration to mark the first full day of legal same-sex marriage in the state.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church hosted a packed house for the day’s evening celebration, attended by clergy from a variety of faith traditions and couples wedded on that day, some after decades of waiting for the legal opportunity.
“We knew the promises of love made between a woman and a woman, a man and a man, transgender persons and bisexual persons — we knew the day would come when these promises would not only be honored by God but also by the state of North Carolina and our fellow citizens,” said the Rev. Dr. Chris Ayers, pastor of Wedgewood Church and one of the clergy participating in the interfaith celebration of marriage equality.
Across North Carolina LGBT couples lined up at marriage license offices for their chance to receive legal recognition of their relationships.
In Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds J. David Granberry said a record had been set. By close of business, a total of 86 marriage licenses had been issued. The previous record in a single day was 63. At least 62 of the 86 licenses were issued to same-sex couples, of which 35 were married on Oct. 13.
For some couples, marriage a long time coming
Couple Jannet Hince and Donna Travis, both in their 60s, were among the 35 married on Oct. 13. Together for 38 years, the couple had waited patiently for the day to arrive when their home state might finally and legally recognize their relationship, though they’d thought of going out of state for their marriage.
“We had been looking at going to Washington [to get married], but we really wanted to get married in North Carolina, so we’d just been dragging our feet hoping this would happen,” Hince said. “We wanted our marriage to be recognized and legal in North Carolina where we live.”
Unfortunate events over the weekend forced their hands.
“A friend of ours unexpectedly died Saturday night and it made us realize we don’t want to wait,” Hince said. “We’ve waited 38 years. It’s time.”
“We deserve it after all these years,” Travis said.
The sense of urgency on Oct. 13 was felt among younger couples, too.
Amanda Eaves Scott, originally from Columbia, S.C., and Christina Ann Corvin from Miami, both in their 20s, said they couldn’t wait any longer to wed.
“We were going to have a wedding in a year, but we wanted to legalize it just in case hatred comes into play — if they take it from us,” Scott said.
Scott and Corvin still plan on having a formal ceremony next year at NoDa’s McGill Rose Garden, where they will invite friends and family to join them in celebration. On Oct. 13, the couple’s friends and Scott’s mother acted as witnesses — Scott’s father was absent.
“It was really hard for me to come out,” Scott said. “My dad doesn’t talk to me hardly and I’m just so proud that my mom stands by me.”
Below: A joint wedding of five couples from Charlotte’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, as broadcast live by qnotes on Monday afternoon. Story continues below.
A celebration and blessing
The historic marriages on Oct. 13 in Charlotte came after dizzying days of legal maneuvers late during the week prior. After attempted efforts to block or stall legal same-gender marriages by Republican state leaders, Western North Carolina U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn finally issued an order prohibiting state officials from enforcing an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2012.
Two attorneys, Luke Largess and Jacob Sussman, involved in the fight against the amendment, spoke briefly at the Oct. 13 evening’s marriage equality celebration, holding a placard with an abridged version of Judge Cogburn’s order reading, in part, “that North Carolina laws prohibiting same sex marriage, refusing to recognize same-sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”
But, the couples scattered throughout the crowd and their accompanying friends and family truly stole the show — waving rainbow flags, erupting in applause and cheers and, even, taking time to pause for those who never got to see a day of legal equality for their relationships.
The Rev. Robin Tanner, pastor of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, shared her joy as she led the congregation in a blessing of couples.
In her time as pastor at the Charlotte church, Tanner said she had been “called to officiate at 29 weddings — 29 beautiful and blessed weddings wondering when I could at last say these words for all couples: By the power vested in me by the state of North Carolina.”
Tanner was also present during several weddings at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office on Oct. 13 and officiated at one.
“With a heart still tender with the blessing of that wedding, I invite you to rise,” she said. “With a cloud of witnesses gathered — those with us who rejoice in this day, those who are gone from us physically who struggled for this night of joy and those just entering this beautiful and tender world — with these witnesses gathered, we bless now the marriages, the commitments and the covenants in our midst.”
Pausing in remembrance
Calling upon the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the last sermon he gave before his assassination, Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte Pastor Jay Leach called the celebration’s attendees to somber reflection.
“Tonight in our great joy, we pause to remember all those whose started on this great journey, but never made it here to the promised land with us,” Leach said. “Those who longed only for their love to be equal and recognized. Those who joined in this struggle, but didn’t get to enjoy its outcome … elders taken from us before equality could be given to them.”
Leach also paused to reflect upon the many lost to the 1980s AIDS Crisis, calling their deaths a profound loss for loved ones and the community.
“They never got to see the promised land,” Leach said, continuing: “I’m not the only one in this room tonight whose joy is tempered just a bit by sadness. This came too late for some of our dearest ones to experience.”
Leach then invited those gathered to call out the names of lost loved ones as several congregants shouted out the names of family and friends.
“So long as we live, they too shall live,” Leach said in response. “For they are now a part of us as we remember them. Amen.” : :
— CAMERON JOYCE CONTRIBUTED.