Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families live in every town across North Carolina. Gay couples fall in love and create families together.
We are part of every race, class and faith community. We conduct our lives with dignity and love, yet state law in North Carolina prohibits gay couples from marrying or adopting children. You can still be fired for being LGBT in our state.
The passage of Amendment One did not resolve the issue of LGBT rights in North Carolina. The conversation continues – in our courts, in our public square and, perhaps most significantly, in the lives of real people.
To hope, to love, to create a family – these are among the most innate expressions of our humanity. When a law like Amendment One seeks to legislate our lives by forbidding the expression of these capacities, it becomes immoral and unconstitutional. The consequences of such laws are profound, impacting the lives and spirits of LGBT people on a daily basis. That is why LGBT people are challenging this law, in the courts and also in our public lives.
As a teenager in the ’90s, I used to drive around Orange County late at night, and on those roads I felt at home and also utterly alone. Home was country music on the radio, the winding slope of two-lane roads and the knowledge that those I loved were nearby. Alone was knowing that I was gay; I simply couldn’t imagine ever being an openly gay person there.
Suicide rates among gay teens speak to how wrenchingly hard it can be to come out. I was lucky to survive those years. I’m almost 40 now and am married to Meghann, a bighearted Midwesterner who has adopted North Carolina as a second home. We are legally married in the eyes of our federal government, but North Carolina regards us as legal strangers – a status that could not be more alien to the truths of our lives.
Let me try to explain what it feels like to be gay in North Carolina. Imagine that every time you leave your house, you do a mental inventory of where you are going and assess whether you can be who you truly are or need to hide this, in the interest of safety, job security or the preservation of family relationships. Imagine being told you cannot marry the love of your life. Imagine being told you are not a legal parent to the child you are raising. What would you do in this position – to be who you truly are, to protect those you love? If your answer is pretty much anything, you are like most LGBT people I know.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, my work involves traveling the South to stand with LGBT couples as they request marriage licenses in their hometowns through the WE DO Campaign. We’re currently barnstorming North Carolina, as LGBT couples ask their local Register of Deeds to issue a marriage license as an act of conscience. Leading state and national anti-gay organizations condemn our work as “reprehensible.”
I talk to people on all sides of the issue, at gas stations, marriage license offices and kitchen tables across the South. These conversations involve people talking about what matters most in their lives – family, friendship and faith. These moments remind me that the greatest gift that God gives us is the ability to love both our neighbor and our enemy; the greatest charge is to actually do so.
Our nation is moving irreversibly toward recognizing the full equality and dignity of LGBT people. We can stay silent as politicians and courts debate these issues. We can condemn those we disagree with. Or we can listen to the stories of real people. People like the LGBT families I know who are fully equal and yet are treated as second-class citizens. People like the parents who are praying for guidance about how to reconcile their faith beliefs with the reality of having a gay child they love very much. This is a human, moral issue. It’s time we treat it that way.
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of Asheville is a minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.