Mark Maxwell and Tim Young will go to the Forsyth County registrar’s office Monday afternoon and be denied a marriage license. Later this week, they’ll travel to Washington, D.C., where they have a license, and be married in front of crowd of family, friends and other same-sex couples from the South.
We Do campaign, sponsored by the Campaign for Southern Equality, has organized events throughout the South over the past two years where same-sex couples have their requests for marriage licenses denied as a way to push for changes in federal law. Couples requested licenses in Asheville on Friday. Monday events are planned for Wilson and Winston-Salem.
“The more we continue to speak out, the more we ask for our rights, march peacefully, marry publicly, that is when we will start to see the change that needs to happen,” Maxwell said.
Couples, including Maxwell and Young, requested licenses in North Carolina last year, around the time voters chose overwhelmingly to join other southern states and add a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions to the constitution.
In November, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved gay-marriage initiatives, while a proposed constitutional ban failed in Minnesota.
Regional differences in attitudes toward same-sex marriage showed up in a Pew Research Center poll last November that showed majorities in New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Pacific coast states supporting same-sex marriage and greater opposition in Southern states.
Even as attitudes in the South begin to change, gay people remain second-class citizens under the law, said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Campaign for Southern Equality’s executive director.
Videos of couples asking for licenses and being turned away are posted online. The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director the Christian Action League and a supporter of the constitutional amendment, said those videos are designed to elicit sympathy for the applicants when the question should be about the legal ramifications of allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Same-sex marriage will infringe on the religious liberties of people who oppose it, he said, pointing to the decision of Catholic adoption agencies in some states to shut down rather than comply with laws allowing same-sex couples to adopt. “We would come to be seen as bigots and intolerant individuals who don’t care about our society, or who don’t care about people, and that’s really not true,” Creech said. “There are huge consequences for changing the legal definition of marriage.”
For Maxwell and Young, who have been together for about 20 years, the consequences would be that they could both be legal parents to their four children, Maxwell said. The state does not allow same-sex adoption. “This is really about children at the core of this,” he said.
Maxwell, 44, and Young, 48, met when they were college students in Raleigh. They purchased rings years ago while on vacation in Cherokee, after they had been together for about four years, Maxwell said.
The events leading to their ceremony this week will be more public than most. They’ll drive to Arlington, Va. with family and friends. In Arlington, they’ll greet other same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. Then, all will walk from Arlington to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., where Beach-Ferrara will bless the Maxwell-Young union.
The walk will also highlight the nation’s patchwork of marriage laws as some couples who were married in states that allow it will go from being “legal strangers”in Virginia, as Beach-Ferrara calls it, to being married in Washington, D.C., which has sanctioned same-sex marriage since 2010.
This promises to be another important year for same-sex marriage laws with the U.S. Supreme Court considering two cases this term.
Creech said he doesn’t know what the court will decide, but the outcome won’t end the debate. “No more than the case Roe v. Wade settled abortion, the same will happen with same-sex marriage,” he said.