Welcome to APW Pride week. This project started last year, when Cindy asked me if APW was doing anything for Pride. After a lot of weighing of the pros and cons we decided to go for it. And what a week it was. It was my favorite week of the year last year, because of, well, the sentiments that Diana’s email to me summed up. She said, “Seeing weddings and marriages that look like mine will ended up meaning more than I realized. Of course there’s LGBTQ content mixed in all the time on APW, and I love that everything you write is from an inclusive perspective. But seeing one lady/lady couple after another this week really drove home the idea that my wedding is just as awesome as a lady/dude wedding.” So this week, we’re doing it again. Interestingly, this year the week has a decidedly political spin, because that’s where we are, right now, as a country. So I couldn’t be more thrilled to kick off the week with Aly of Embrace Release talking about what just happened to her family in North Carolina.
Imagine this: you’ve been married for nearly five years. You have a couple of wily children who exhaust and delight you. You and your significant other have weathered a few major storms—fertility struggles, grad school, communication breakdowns, childbirth twice, actual natural disaster-like storms, etc—and you’re stronger and more committed than ever. Then, you move to a new state.
As you’re scrambling to make friends, find a good burrito, and get anywhere without a GPS robot voice shaming you for having to recalculate again, there’s breaking news. Your local government officials declare that your marriage is dangerous, especially for children. (Your poor children!) Forget the endless war(s) and limping economy, you and your partner are the real problem. Signs pop up in yards and intersections. TV ads and op-eds, for and against, fly to and fro.
In the middle of the mayhem, life goes on for your family of four. You and your partner squeeze in quality time late at night after the children are asleep and before you both zone out to reality television. Your baby angrily sprouts teeth and learns how to scale furniture while your little/big kid resists potty-training but excels at bike-riding. Your local officials and new neighbors are undeterred by your seemingly innocuous existence. They take a vote. Sorry, the majority thinks you need to be sent a strong message. Your marriage is already illegal but you can add invalid and unrecognizable to the list too. No rights or protections for you as a couple, or family, anytime soon.
On the evening of the day North Carolina passed Amendment One, I sat out on the deck of our little brick ranch house in the waning sun, sipping a glass of wine, while my sons played and my partner worked late. I was in that space between bad news and the breakdown, not in shock or in denial, just not ready to respond.
Anyway, there were more immediate concerns like prowling mosquitos and the danger of sleepy bees on clover, like mini landmines, beneath my kids’ bare feet. I had my camera ready too for brother hugs and other transcendental moments, so I asked my 3-year-old, Avie, to sing me a song. He ran inside to get his toy ukulele. I flipped the camera to video, and captured this:
Initially, my spirits were so lifted by such extreme cuteness and the realization that I’d just witnessed his first impromptu original song—and got it on video!—that I didn’t think much about the words he was singing. His attention turned to bugs on our potted lime tree, and I watched the video back.
I just want you to stay with me and I don’t want you to go out in the woods by yourself. I will come with you in the woods because I don’t want a bear to get you!
Wow, I thought. My three-year-old knows more about love than most people in this state. And that’s exactly what this state is: a dark, bear-infested wood. How can we ever be happy or feel safe here?
Much of the campaign against the amendment focused on the so-called unintended consequences of its passage, like how it could reduce domestic violence protections for unmarried, heterosexual victims and how children of unmarried parents might lose health insurance coverage. Campaign leaders did this because they expected voters to be more sympathetic to the plight of abuse victims and children than LGBT folks. I get it. I do. But it still made my heart ache to think that my little family, and others like us, needed to be hidden from view for the campaign to be successful. Then we lost anyway.
My mother and brother called later that night. Both North Carolina residents somewhere on the conservative end of the political spectrum, but both also firmly in the vote against camp, they had been convinced the amendment would fail. I tried to keep it together, to play it like I wasn’t surprised. Because I wasn’t. But expecting it to pass did nothing to soften the blow when it did. I can’t recall if I cried to one or both, but when I finally did respond, I blubbered, and they stammered, expressing shock at the voting results, saying it wouldn’t last. Even though I’ve been talking about LGBT discrimination for years, this was the first time they were both personally confronted and deeply upset by it.
It dawned on me that my brother and mother had come a long way since our 2007 wedding. They were both in attendance that May night five years ago, but their understanding of my relationship with my partner as a real marriage needed more than just a ring-swapping ritual to develop. Pre-wedding, when my brother found out that our sister wouldn’t be attending because of her religious beliefs, he was furious, and said something like “I don’t get it either but I’m going to be there because I’m your brother!” I was, of course, grateful for his support, even if it was a bit qualified. As for my mother, from the time I came out at 18 to the time I married my partner at 27, I think there was always a little hope in her heart that my queer identity was just a phase. Our wedding was the final nail in my gay coffin, and that was hard for her, even if she did look lovely dancing the night away at our reception.
Five years on, my sister still wants little to do with us, but my brother and mother treat us like any other married couple. Still, neither one would have likely shared pro-marriage equality links on Facebook prior to the Amendment One saga, but both did, and a lot, in the weeks leading up to the vote. My mother shared my amendment-related blog posts, as well a video for an amendment protest song with her friends, many of whom are not as evolved on the subject I’m sure. On voting day, I posted a picture of Avie with his “mean face” on and an anti-amendment fake tattoo on his cheek. My brother promptly shared it on his wall with the words, “Let’s roll!” This may sound silly. But when I saw that, I teared up.
In the days following the vote, I moped, and I brooded. I also joined in a peaceful protest organized by Campaign for Southern Equality at our city marriage license office, along with my partner and sons, and ugly cried on the local news. Meanwhile, something magical was happening. Scores of people were emailing, texting, calling, and writing messages on my Facebook wall and blog to express outrage and support for our family. Old college friends, former pet sitting clients, the midwife who caught Avie, erstwhile neighbors, a therapist from long ago, new friends from my son’s playgroup, ex-coworkers, random acquaintances, many strangers who read my blog or articles online, cross-country cousins and other more distant relatives (some of whom I’ve never met) got in touch to tell us that we are a valid family, that we deserve equal rights, and that they’re rooting for us.
I’ve written before about how weddings are like big send-off parties and that the road after can be lonely and rough. It’s rare, I think, for a married couple to get a second wedding-like pep rally years down the road, but we did. On our official five-year wedding anniversary, another unintended consequence of the amendment’s passage revealed itself—and this has to be the most unintended consequence of all: we feel more accepted and supported as a couple by our family and community than ever before.
North Carolina may in fact be one big bear-infested wood, but thanks to Amendment One, we’ve discovered that our little family isn’t walking through it alone. There’s a crowd of good, kind people walking with us here and in spirit, and we are a proud parade.
Happy Pride, y’all!
Photos from Aly & Elroi’s personal collection