Mark has it right


I met Mark Chilton the evening this photo was taken. It was in late May, 2013; Mark would remember the exact date since it was the night he was arrested during a Moral Monday protest.

Mark was mayor of Carrboro, NC, at the time, and he was standing against the hard right turn taken by the state’s General Assembly. I had been arrested on May 13 and I was volunteering to notarize appearance waivers for people who were arrested.

We struck up a friendship based in large part on our beliefs that people deserve basic rights, including the right to have their needs met — to be paid a living wage for a week’s work, to send their children to decent schools, to have access to quality health care and to vote. He is one of many, many friends I have made in the Forward Together Movement.

When Mark’s mayoral term expired, he decided to run for Register of Deeds in Orange County. In North Carolina, the office registers deeds, births, deaths and marriages.

That might not seem like a good next political step after being mayor, but Mark saw something very important he could do with the office — he ran on a promise that he would recognize — and register — same-sex marriages, even though the state has a constitutional amendment forbidding marriage equality.

In Tuesday’s primary, Mark beat out the incumbent, and since he now runs unopposed, he is just about assured of being sworn in come January.

Mark considers Amendment One unconstitutional, and since he will swear to uphold the US Constitution first and the state Constitution second, he will recognize same-sex marriages.

Marriage equality is happening with remarkable speed across the country. I think Amendment One was a last-gasp attempt to keep change from happening, and it will be declared unconstitutional.

My pastor, Rev. Joe Hoffman, is among the people who filed suit against Amendment One, using the argument that it violates his religious freedom to perform marriages of people in his congregation. The Campaign for Southern Equality is housed in my church.

I joined First Congregational UCC because of its views on marriage equality. I would never attend a church where my sister and her spouse weren’t welcome as who they were.

My sister was able to marry the love of her life before she died of lung cancer in 2006. Her spouse made all the decisions, as was appropriate. No one in my family would have tried to prevent that, but it was wonderful that they had the legal protection in case an asshole emerged from the woodwork.

I have heard horror stories of people being prevented from seeing their loved one in hospitals to loss of property after a death.

As the law stands now, my gay and lesbian friends can be married in one state and “legal strangers” in another. They have to make all kinds of legal preparations to battle that status and they still don’t have the same rights I have — simple because I fell in love with someone of the opposite gender.

The way I see it is that the only marriage that’s any of my business is my own. I actually believe my sister’s marriage strengthened mine because her inability to marry for more than 20 years taught me to appreciate the rights I have and made me want to fight for her to have equal rights.

At my sister’s funeral, the pastor — and evangelical Christian who believes God made us just how we were meant to be — described my sister and her spouse’s love as “extravagant.”

“Such extravagant love can be given only by God,” he said.

I love that line. It has given me a lot of comfort in the years since my sister died, and it has given me the conviction that every human being deserves the right to express that love and to be given the same legal protections I get.

Mark Chilton ran on a promise to recognize that right, and he won. It gives me hope that we are almost there.

Thanks to Mark — and to everyone who voted for him.




Yes, we do!

Amy and Lauren run Be Loved House, which ministers to homeless and poor people. They take no salary, but live on donations of food and clothing. They want the legal rights and protections that marriage offers. They were among the eight arrested Friday.

I cry at weddings. What can I say? I’m a mush.

But yesterday, I cried because a dozen of my friends were rejected when they asked to make the same legal contract my husband and I made 29 years ago.

The Campaign for Southern Equality sponsored a “We Do!” rally here in Asheville. More than 300 people, including more than a dozen members of the clergy, turned out to support them.

It was a perfect day for a wedding, sunny and warm with just a slight breeze. Spring flowers are in bloom and the couples were surrounded by friends and family.

The only catch was that they’re not full citizens because they happen to love people of the same gender, so they were turned away.

Amy and Lauren run Be Loved House in Asheville. They’ve dedicated their lives to helping people who are homeless.

Elizabeth and Kathryn have been together 30 years and raised two daughters. They were arrested last year when they tried to get a marriage license and then refused to leave the Register of Deeds office. They were convicted of second-degree trespass and fined. So they’re convicted criminals. I tell them often I hope to dance at their wedding on the day they finally are allowed full rights.

Elizabeth and Kathryn have been together for 30 years and have raised two daughters together. Their friends call then The Llama Mamas because Elizabeth rescued two llamas several years ago. They and their menagerie of animals live atop a mountain outside of Asheville.

“I hope I don’t need a walker to get to the altar,” Elizabeth told me. That was a few minutes before Kathryn stepped up to the microphone to sing “You are so Beautiful” to all of us who were there for them.

I told Elizabeth if she’s 90 and in a wheelchair, I’ll wheel her down the aisle.

I’ve known them for 10 years and sang with them in the choir for the first five of those years. I’ve prayed for them and members of their family as Elizabeth went through breast cancer and members of Kathryn’s family suffered the loss of a baby.

I’ve snuggled their dogs, petted their llamas and hugged both of them when they’ve been looked down upon because they love each other.

I think they’re two of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.

And finally, Patrick and Mark. I met Patrick when he was executive director of the Red Cross chapter here. I was working for the newspaper and a former employee was arrested for stealing from the agency.

Unlike most executive directors caught up in something like this, Patrick took my call because he wanted to reassure donors that everything would be OK. In my decades of experience in the newspaper business, few executives had the courage to say anything other than, “No comment.” So I liked Patrick right away.

Mark and Patrick. I'm calling this their official engagement photo.Patrick spent his career working for nonprofits, including the Red Cross. They were turned away Friday when they asked to be granted a marriage license.

He and Mark lived several hours apart and were able to be together on weekends and holidays until Patrick retired earlier this year. Now they’d like to be married. I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t.

I want people to see these faces and know these stories because these are real people who are being denied the right to the same legal protections and benefits I have, and the only reason they’re seen as legally less deserving than I am is because they happen to love someone of the same gender.

These are only six of the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who are the targets of the discrimination the voters of this state etched into their constitution this week. Look at their faces, look at the way they look at each other and then tell me again why I can’t dance (and cry) at their weddings.


Please vote against hate

I’d like you to meet my friends Amy and Lisa and their four kids. They work hard to make ends meet and raise these kids. They fuss over what to watch on TV, try to keep the house in order — pretty much everything a straight couple does.

But if The Amendment passes in North Carolina next month, they will never be recognized by the state as a family. If Amy gets sick, Lisa may not be able to have a say in how she is treated.

The Amendment, as it is called on the ballot, would insert discrimination into the state’s constitution.

It also would affect heterosexual couples who have chosen not to marry legally — something several couples I know have chosen to protest discrimination against gays and lesbians. They could lose domestic partner benefits.

What’s even scarier is that it would make domestic violence laws more difficult to enforce, as has happened in Ohio. Women who are battered by their boyfriends are less likely to be able to prosecute under domestic violence laws. They can still file assault charges, but there are fewer protections for them. It is a huge step backwards.

North Carolina already has a law against same-sex marriage, but opponents — who overwhelmingly object on religious grounds — want to make it even harder to repeal the ban.

I believe Amy and Lisa have a right to be married legally and have the same legal benefits and protections I do. Marriage is a legal contract and it should be nothing more than that to the state. To bring religion into it violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which supersedes the state’s. It’s none of my business whether a couple is gay or straight; the only marriage I should have any say in is my own.

Early voting begins next Thursday. Before you vote, please consider the harm this amendment would cause to gay and straight couples and their children. It’s morally wrong and it needs to be defeated.


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