Meet the couples taking action for marriage in NC 2 years after Amendment One

Today, May 8, marks two years since the passage of Amendment One, a harmful constitutional amendment passed in North Carolina that bans same-sex couples from marrying in the state and bans any and all protections for these families, including lesser forms of family status like civil union and domestic partnership. 

A lot has happened in North Carolina in the past two years: New relationships have formed. Children have been welcomed into the world. Families have continued leading their lives. But every day in the state, loving, committed couples are building their families without the fundamental protections of marriage, enduring the discriminatory Amendment One and looking toward a future where no one in North Carolina - or in any state - is denied the freedom to marry the person they love.

That's why today, couples in Raleigh, NC are taking a stand with the Campaign for Southern Equality, friends, family members, and clergy, through the WE DO campaign. These couples will request marriage licenses and provoke denials from the Wake County Register of Deeds, and married couples will pay $26 to record their commitment in the county as a way of demonstrating that laws like Amendment One are hurting real people and real families in this community. 

"These brave couples from North Carolina will do everything in their power to have their marriages recognized or to be married at last - including creating a public record of their love, commitment, and marriage," Rev. Jasmine Beach Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, wrote yesterday in a guest post for Freedom to Marry. "The WE DO Campaign is about targeting discriminatory laws in the moment of their enforcement. By requesting a marriage license or recording a marriage license, these couples are making this discrimination visible: Together, we are putting pressure on systems that persecute by provoking their enforcement."

Freedom to Marry caught up with eight of the couples participating in the WE DO campaign today. Read more about them, and make sure to follow the action - at 9:00am ET - on Twitter at @South4Marriage and @CSELive with #WeDoNC. 

TJ & Justine Price-O'Neil

It didn't take long after meeting in their graduate school program at NC State University for TJ and Justine to fall in love and realize that there they shared a special bond.They started dating soon after they met in 2004, and over the next few years, they graduated, bought a home, began raising dogs, and entered the workforce.

In 2010, they celebrated their commitment in front of all of their family members and friends at their church in Raleigh, then received a marriage license in Massachusetts before welcoming a baby girl, Prestyn, into the world in June 2012. That was one month after Amendment One passed, in May 2012.

"Justine was 8 months pregnant with Prestyn when Amendment One passed," TJ explained. "It was hard to bring a child into a world where hatred was being written into our state's constitution."

"Even though we have ridden the high or our wedding ceremony and celebration for many years, slowly North Carolina's denial of respect for our marriage has seeped into our daily lives," Justin added. "The fact that TJ can't adopt Prestyn is the most glaringly obvious: Tax breaks and insurance benefits pale in comparison to not truly being your child's mother in the eyes of the law."

As TJ and Justine take this action with the Campaign for Southern Equality, they know that they are speaking up for equality for all.

"Taking taking this action on the anniversary of the passage of Amendment One gives us a voice," TJ said. "It allows us to finally say, you were wrong, North Carolina. We love you - but you were wrong. We forgive you, but you were wrong. We are here, North Carolina - love us back."

Christopher & Jeff Priela-Tam

Chris and Jeff are rapidly approaching their first wedding anniversary - they tied the knot on June 8 in Washington, D.C. last year - and when they celebrate, they'll be doing so with thousands of miles in between them: As a member of the United States Navy, Jeff is currently deployed.

Shortly before Chris' deployment, the men moved from Honolulu, HI to Jacksonville, NC, where they live on the military base there.

It's a unique, odd situation for Chris to be living on base in North Carolina now that he and Jeff are married; in many ways, it's a relief - because he and Jeff are husbands, and because the federal government respects their marriage thanks to the Supreme Court striking down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, they are treated as just as married as any other couple while on base.

But as soon as he steps off base into North Carolina, the state views Chris and Jeff as legal strangers. That's hard enough to endure when your husband is right by your side - it's been even harder in the past few weeks, while Chris is already dealing with Jeff's deployment. 

Today with the Campaign for Southern Equality, Chris is entering his marriage license with Jeff into the North Carolina public record, where they are taking the next step in their lives together.

It's the latest in a long history of Chris and Jeff speaking up for equality. Jeff is a former board member of Equality Hawaii and a current member of OutServe-SLDN, and they have spoken out for equality with the American Military Partner Association and Hawaii United for Marriage.

It all ties into how Chris views the world: "You've got to have Aloha for everyone - not just for some," he has said. "Love is love."

Paula Womack & Jane Weidig

When Paula and Jane first connected more than 19 years ago, it was online - before Facebook, before Twitter, and before Internet dating sites. The women - both ordained ministers - started communicating over online, religion-focused bulletin boards where discussions ranged from theology to Star Trek. They exchanged many messages, eventually talked on the phone, and decided to meet in person - in between Cleveland, where Jane lived, and Memphis, where Paula lived.

Soon after their first meeting, they fell in love, moved together to North Carolina, and promised their commitment to each other in a beautiful Service of Covenant at their church in Chapel Hill, NC.

They've been living in NC ever since - and in November 2012, they legally married in Massachusetts. 

"We were planning to go up to Massachusetts, where my mother lives, for Thanksgiving," Jane said, explaining that her mother suffers from Alzheimer's. "Shortly before our trip, we were talking on the phone and, out of the blue, she said, 'Hey, why don't you two get married while you're up here?'" Paula and Jane had always planned to wait to marry until they could in their home state - but her question made them reconsider: Realizing that it was important to Mom, and wanting her to be able to participate and understand what was happening, they changed their plans. Just after Thanksgiving, after nearly two decades together, Jane and Paula legally said "I do."

"It means so much to know that our marriage will be recorded in the public record. Our love, our marriage, will be documented - and that is a firm statement that we are here."

Now, of course, North Carolina does not respect their marriage - Amendment One, the anti-marriage amendment that Jane describes as "a punch in the gut" - denies any and all protections for same-sex couples in the state.

That's a constant blow for Paula and Jane, an ever-present reminder that the state they love is treating them unequally. But even in very tangible ways, the women are confronted with discrimination solely because North Carolina denies them this respect: For example, should Paula need to access family medical leave to care for Jane, because of Amendment One, Paula's employer is not obligated to grant the couple that basic protection that Paula;s straight co-workers receive when they are married.

That's why they are standing up against Amendment One with today's action of recording their marriage.

"It's amazing that this change has happened in such a short period of time," Jane said. "I remember five years ago thinking that we would never see gay couples getting married in some of these states - and now, it's legal in 17 states. It's moving with such force: It's like the switch has been thrown, and the change is happening."

"It means so much to know that our marriage will be recorded in the public record," Paula continued. "Our love, our marriage, will be documented - and that is a firm statement that we are here and that we are just like everyone else."

Jeff Evans & Dave Parnell

Jeff and Dave have been together for more than 25 years, and for many of those years, they've been living in Raleigh.

As a county employee, Dave should be allowed to share his county health care benefits and other protections with Jeff - but since North Carolina does not respect their 25 years of commitment - and does not grant them any legal respect for their marriage license from Vermont, Jeff and Dave cannot be treated with fairness in the state that they love.

When they record their marriage license in Wake County today, they'll be doing so as a tribute to their 25 years together, taking it as an opportunity to raise their hand and tell North Carolina that there are real people and real relationships behind discriminatory laws like Amendment One.

The men had their relationship blessed during a Holy Union service at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC in 2004 - and they've continued to gather at Pullen each week to grow closer together and stronger in their faith.

Megan Borgaard & Judy

After three years of love and commitment, Megan and Judy are taking a stand against Amendment One and declaring that their love is deserving of the same respect and equal treatment that all other families in NC receive.

They are not yet married - but deeply wish to have the freedom to marry in North Carolina.

"We look forward to the day that our love is fully recognized by the state of North Carolina," Megan said. "We are excited for the opportunity to stand up for equality. We're fortunate that we have such an amazing group of family, friends and co-workers who support us and care about us - and we know that in the end, love will win."

Dennis Massenburg & Clifton

As they prepare for their wedding ceremony in Raleigh, NC - after nearly a year of being engaged - Dennis and Clifton

"Participating in this movement throughout this process has strengthened our voice and our point of view in this community."

The men met while working together on a musical ministry project - and it didn't take long for them to hit it off and fall in love.

One of the most unifying aspects of their life is their faith: "Faith plays a central part in our existence," Dennis said. "It is truly in God that we live, move, and have my being. Being able to marry each other and having it publicly and legally acknowledge will bring about a sense for wholeness for the both of us."

Today, two years to the day of Amendment One passing, Dennis and Clifton will request a marriage license with the Campaign for Southern Equality right where they live, in Wake County.

"Participating in this movement throughout this process has strengthened our voice and our point of view in this community," Dennis said.

Tiffany Maddux & Carlie Fink-Maddux

Earlier this week, on May 4, Tiffany and Carlie celebrated the first anniversary of their commitment ceremony in Chapel Hill, NC - the day when they stood before their family members and friends, declared their love for each other, and promised their commitment to building a family.

Shortly after their commitment ceremony, they received a marriage license in New York.

"Returning back to North Carolina knowing our marriage license was insignificant in NC was heartbreaking," Tiffany said. "But we choose to believe and act the way it should be: equal. We choose to believe and act as equal recognized citizens in North Carolina."

Last year, around the anniversary of Amendment One passing, Carlie and Tiffany were celebrating their commitment with their loved ones, and they couldn't help but reflect on the previous year, when the anti-marriage amendment passed in their state.

"Being able to vote against Amendment One was extremely gratifying," Carlie said. "And even though the amendment passed, it opened up the door for more individuals to gain knowledge about the lives of same-sex couples. We both worked with a great deal of people who were pro-Amendment One, and during that campaign, we helped to educate our coworkers on how it would hurt our family. We lived our lives as an example, and we were able to change the hearts and minds of some of our fellow colleagues, which was rewarding."

With today's action, they're continuing to raise their voices against Amendment One - they are recording that marriage license in their home state of North Carolina and telling their state, undeniably, that they are married and waiting for the day where they are granted the respect they need.

"Being able to be a part of the We Do action gives us courage," they said. "We hope we will be the stone that takes the first skip across the water in hopes of creating a ripple effect in our community." 

Doug Jones & Sandy Ceppos

When Doug and Sandy met for the first time in 2001, they quickly formed an important friendship, supporting each other through tough personal times - including coming out as gay for the first time.

"One of the first things he did was invite me to church," Sandy said. "That really impressed me, because my faith has always been a defining part of who I am. Doug's friendship was crucial to my journey of facing the new world of being gay - and I really admired his values and his mentoring."

After about six months of friendship, both men sensed that their relationship had become more than that - and by the end of 2001, they were living together and ready to commit their lives to each other.

They married in Bethesda, Maryland at a United Church of Christ church, saying "I do" to each other alongside another couple, close friends of theirs, and before their minister.

"Coming back to North Carolina after the wedding was a rude dose of reality recognizing that nothing had really changed, according to our state," Sandy said. "Oddly enough, filing our federal tax returns as a married couple was our first real experience of being legally married in North Carolina."

"It's important for us to stand up and be recognized as a married gay couple living in North Carolina - not just for ourselves, but for future generations," he continued. "Taking the public action on May 8 gives us the opportunity to place our relationship into the public record. And although the action won't change our marital status in the eyes of the state, it will force others to recognize our marriage - to acknowledge that we are here."

Learn more about the Campaign for Southern Equality.