Gay couples prep for Supreme Court ruling
In a nod to the 100th anniversary of the town that brought them together, Lydia Lavelle and Alicia Stemper registered as domestic partners in Carrboro in March 2011.
A month later, the bill that would eventually become North Carolina’s Amendment One was filed.
Today, the amendment is law and constitutionally bans gay marriage and domestic partnerships in the state —thus nullifying Lavelle and Stemper’s domestic partnership.
But as the Supreme Court debates the validity of such bans on same-sex marriage, local LGBT activists are focused on the future.
“I’m very, very cautiously hopeful, but I would not be surprised to not have it happen,” Lavelle said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if you see at least a few of the justices say ‘This is a matter of constitutional magnitude that is really not fair to same-sex couples.’”
Brett Webb-Mitchell, a Chapel Hill resident and former Presbyterian pastor, closely watched the arguments last week with his partner. While he also doubts the court’s decision will bring same-sex marriage to N.C., he is optimistic about the momentum.
“What it does though from a court of public opinion is show us how out of step we are with the nation,” he said. “We may be the last state that amends its constitution prohibiting marriage equality.”
The Defense of Marriage Act, which bans gay marriage at the federal level, and California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 initiative to ban gay marriage in that state, are being contested in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though many view the imminent decisions as watershed moments for the LGBT rights movement, overturning either policy would not necessarily extend same-sex marriage to all 50 states.
“A lot of people think that this is such a make-or-break week for North Carolina when we’re such a peripheral state,” said Lavelle, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
“You know, we don’t even have civil unions. There are nine or 10 states that have civil unions or domestic partnerships, they’re almost on the cusp of marriage and we’re not even there.”
Despite the lack of options for same-sex couples in North Carolina, Lavelle and Stemper had the support of friends and family — including Stemper’s father.
“My father’s at times alarmingly conservative,” said Stemper, a freelance photographer. “But he was so present for us.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who is the first openly gay mayor in Chapel Hill, said he paid close attention to the Supreme Court arguments.
“Tuesday and Wednesday were crazy days,” he said. “This has the potential to be a week that we will look back on for decades to come as a real turning point in LGBT history.”
Though he and other LGBT North Carolinians have reason to be excited, Kleinschmidt said marriage is not the end of the battle.
“Beyond marriage rights, there’s a whole host of issues that apply to LGBT individuals that will require continued activism,” he said.
Stemper agreed that LGBT advocates will have additional work to do after the Supreme Court decision.
“It’ll take time,” she said. “If marriage equality happens tomorrow, I don’t think some of the obstacles we face will go away immediately.”
Among those obstacles are N.C.’s ban on second-parent adoption for non-married couples. Stemper and Lavelle are currently unable to share custody of their two children.
And Stemper said the couple’s children have been one of their greatest motivators. She recalled a time in her daughter’s childhood when a preschool classmate told her she couldn’t have two mothers.
“One of the hardest things in my life as a parent is trying to help small people who are just built of love understand why we can’t get married,” she said.
“It’s ironic to me that the hardest things about being a parent have been trying to explain hatred and fear and intolerance to people who are born tolerant.”
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