Lydia Lavelle, Carrboro mayor and law professor at N.C. Central University, and Alicia Stemper, a photographer, will always be among the latter, enthusiastic group.
Following North Carolina’s legalization of same-sex marriage this fall, Lavelle and Stemper became the first couple in Orange County to receive a marriage license.
To legally celebrate their 12-year relationship, which began at a Carrboro birthday party years ago, they later hosted a marriage ceremony in the Carrboro Town Commons — extending an invitation for all to take part in the festivities.
Though Stemper said she and Lavelle knew most in attendance, she remembers a family with children there to witness the couple’s love.
“Your wedding is kind of about you, but this time, we were very aware that this wasn’t just our party,” Stemper said.
The couple had two ceremonies prior to their October wedding, one in 2004 — exchanging vows and promises in front of families and friends — and a domestic partnership celebrated on the 100th anniversary of the town of Carrboro.
Though the 2004 ceremony was not a legal marriage, Stemper said it was a momentous showing of love to the couple and their young children.
“We made commitments and promises that felt very real to us, even though it didn’t count,” Stemper said.
Lavelle said their 2011 domestic partnership was in part inspired by disgust with Amendment One, North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage, which the couple saw passed less than a year later.
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal in October to take up five circuit court cases striking down same-sex marriage bans, Lavelle said she waited on pins and needles for North Carolina to offer true marriage equality.
That moment came in October, when a federal judge ruled Amendment One unconstitutional.
“That morning, I kind of knew — oh my gosh, this means we’re going to have marriage in North Carolina very soon,” Lavelle said.
Lavelle said is excited to proclaim their marriage — even in moments as routine as buying flu medicine and checking “spouse” at the pharmacy.
Still, Stemper said inconsistency in same-sex marriage laws has left LGBT partners in other states on the outside looking in.
A Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide will resolve her complex emotions, Stemper said.
“All of the painful part of that, it will get to go away.”