The night the North Carolina Marriage Amendment lost

If you remember what happened seven years ago today in North Carolina, you’re thinking my headline is wrong.

No, you’re wrong.

How a place sinks in

Ten years ago I arrived in Durham NC and, as the Mipso lyric goes, “it’s funny how a place can sink in.”

After living most of my life as a closeted queer in a conservative evangelical bubble, Durham was a revelation. I plunged myself into the music community, eventually becoming a founding member of the Bulltown Strutters second line band. The intersection between the arts/music and queer communities exists everywhere, but it is particularly out and proud in Durham.

For the first time I was living life with people who had the life I only lived within my own body. I longed to be like them, to be out and proud of who I really was, but I was not ready then.

One

And then came Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 was a 2012 proposed change to the North Carolina state constitution that would prohibit the state government from recognizing or performing same sex marriages or civil unions. It was put up for a referendum vote to take place May 8 of that year.

All along it was clear it would be a tough and close fight. In urban areas like Durham I was encouraged by the sea of blue anti-amendment lawn signs. But as soon as I drove a mile into the countryside, the signs all turned red.

On May 8, voting day, much of Durham’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies gathered in the city’s DIY district of queer-friendly bars and cafes, hoping for a celebration. I was there in Fullsteam Brewery watching the returns on their big screen with an anxious crowd.

The numbers went against us. Amendment 1 narrowly passed, and same sex marriage was banned in North Carolina.

Every Who down in Whoville

Of course it was a tremendous blow. Of course there were tears.

But then something else happened.

We poured out into the street, not to riot or even shout angrily or protest. We poured out into the street to hug and laugh and dance and celebrate each other.

Somehow in the midst of apparent defeat we found celebration. A celebration that we were still “us” and we weren’t going away.

And yes, I used “us” and “we.” I mark that night as the beginning of feeling that maybe I could be “we” with the queer world…that maybe I should be.

Of course, Amendment 1 had a short-lived reign. In the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges decision, the United States Supreme Court made same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

That was a mighty victory, but for me the real victory will always be the spirit, heart, and courage I saw in the LGBTQ+ community on the night Amendment 1 became what we thought would be our new reality.

My community is out of the closet and never going back. And neither am I.


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