“It was always official to us,” said Durham resident Lindsay Carroll, who married her partner of eight years, Desiree Peterson, on Friday. “When the time came, we weren’t good at waiting.”
Late Friday afternoon, a federal judge in Asheville struck down North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage — immediately opening the floodgates for dozens of couples in Asheville, Greensboro and Raleigh, who had been waiting anxiously at county courthouses to apply for marriage licenses.
Most register of deeds offices statewide closed by the time the ruling was handed down. But after Peterson received an email from a co-worker saying gay marriage had become legal, the couple raced to the Wake County Justice Center.
“I called Lindsay and said, ‘Let’s go get married!’” Peterson said.
“We’d been waiting for years,” Carroll said. “Initially, I was sad that we couldn’t get married, and then I was mad. Finally we could, and it was very exciting.”
Friday’s ruling involved a case brought by the United Church of Christ, which sued the state in April, contending that the ban violated ministers’ religious freedom to perform gay marriages.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was one of the attorneys working on the case, said the religious community’s participation in the lawsuit was notable.
“The opposition to marriage equality, I think, too often references religious arguments, and it’s very clear working with the plaintiffs that opposition to marriage equality had no monopoly on what they would deem to be correct religious views,” he said.
Jen Jones, Equality N.C.’s spokeswoman, said she would be at the Orange County Register of Deeds Office today to support couples as they apply for marriage licenses.
“As a native North Carolinian speaking, personally someone who never thought they’d see this day in their lifetime, it is an incredibly exciting time,” she said.
Carroll and Peterson said they always knew they would be able to get married in North Carolina — but they didn’t expect it so soon.
“It’s amazing how much things change,” Carroll said. “My parents went to school at Chapel Hill High School when it was being desegregated, and my generation thinks that’s insane that was ever the case. Now the people who are younger than us, my nieces, think it’s really crazy that we couldn’t get married.”
Still, in light of the marriage ruling, many LGBT advocates have emphasized that workplace discrimination remains a persistent problem. North Carolina is one of 29 states that does not explicitly ban employee discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Recent attempts to push a non-discrimination bill through the N.C. General Assembly have failed— but Jones said Equality N.C. will push again for the legislation during the 2015 session.
“I think it is kind of scary that we could still get fired for talking about getting married,” Peterson said.
Peterson, who works in Durham County, said she does not have to worry about workplace discrimination because of a county-wide policy. But Carroll said she doesn’t think her company has such a policy.
“I don’t have any concern because everyone’s supportive, but I would like to see it in writing and in law, really.”
Kleinschmidt said he’s thrilled he could be a part of a collaborative effort that, for him, led to a professional and personal victory.
“For me, it’s such a personal issue, and it’s really kind of hard to put words to it,” he said.
Becoming one of the first gay couples to marry in North Carolina, Carroll said, was a special moment.
“We wanted to do it on Day One in part because we wanted to be part of that community for gay people,” Carroll said. “We’ve been waiting so long that it was more than being about each couple — it was about that community.”