It’s 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 21, and Borough Hall in Red Bank, N.J., is buzzing. My hometown rushed to be the first in the state to issue legal marriage licenses for same-sex couples after a New Jersey judge decided that refusing marriage benefits to same-sex couples would violate federal law.
My dad called me the next day: “Did you hear the news?” He was excited. Ever since I came out to him in 2009, he has become a champion of gay rights.
I was excited, too. But my enthusiasm was muted and also tinged with some jealousy. Although I grew up in New Jersey, my current home is Durham. That’s right, in the very state that in 2012 passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage despite an already existing law of the same nature. I live here with my girlfriend, and when we talk about marriage it’s a lot more complicated than picking out a dress or a venue.
In all honesty, I consider myself to be fairly lucky. After all, Durham is a progressive bubble in a formerly purple state that is rapidly turning red. I am surrounded by supportive friends, family, colleagues and (most) fellow residents who believe in and support my right to love. As a graduate student at Duke University, I could even earn same-sex partner benefits for my girlfriend if we decided to make the trek to obtain a marriage license from another state with marriage equality (maybe it’s time for a trip to my hometown).
But that’s not the point. Why should I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by support and understanding? Why should I have to plan a trip out of town when my heterosexual friends living in Durham or my gay friends living in New York or New Jersey can simply head to their local town hall?
Durham’s progressive bubble is not enough. Gay citizens in North Carolina should not be resigned to living in liberal enclaves like Durham or Asheville. We need to pop the bubble that’s encapsulating our state.
The social current is changing. A clerk in Buncombe County, who’s being called “rogue,” has recently accepted same-sex marriage license applications to submit to the state’s higher court. He’s taking matters into his own hands to promote equality. He’s also standing by federal law – let’s not forget the repeal of Defense of Marriage Act just a few short months ago.
If state employees do not want to adhere to the state laws, then it’s time to change the status quo. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie even dropped his appeal to prevent same-sex marriages when he realized it was a lost cause. So, yes, New Jersey as the 14th state to have full marriage equality makes me proud, but it also makes me want to pass Christie’s number along to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.
Jennifer Isherwood is pursuing her Ph.D. is social psychology at Duke.