UPDATE: On October 6, the United States Supreme Court denied review in five marriage cases including a case from Virginia. The decision set a binding precedent throughtout the 4th Circuit, and on allowed the lower court ruling to stand, bringing the freedom to marry to North Carolina on October 10.
On the morning of their wedding day on January 17, 2013, Mark Maxwell and Timothy Young walked 4.5 miles. They marched across the Arlington Bridge, past the Lincoln Memorial, and finally arrived, 2 hours later, at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. They were flanked by hundreds of fellow marchers - friends, family members, and dozens of other same-sex couples who stood in support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples across the country. These people were standing by as Mark and Tim celebrated 22 years of commitment, love, and dedication to speaking up for what's right.
Tim and Mark's wedding ceremony at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial signaled the close of Stage 4 of the Campaign for Southern Equality's "We Do" campaign, where committed same-sex couples across the South apply for marriage licenses in their home communities and provoke denials, demonstrating what anti-gay laws look like when they are enforced. Their ceremony served as a symbol: After over two weeks of the Campaign for Southern Equality supporting same-sex couples as they were denied marriage licenses, the wedding showed what it looks like when these couples do have the freedom to marry.
Mark and Tim live in Winston-Salem, NC with their four adopted children - 23-year-old Brandon, who's preparing to welcome a child into the world and make Mark and Tim grandparents; 17-year-old Derrick, who enjoys nature and skateboarding, 15-year-old Justin, a writer and budding activist; and 12-year-old Torin, who loves sports, especially Lacrosse. The couple's sons are extremely important to them - and they're the primary motivation for joining forces with the Campaign for Southern Equality and sharing their story. "Ultimately, everything Tim and I do and everything we speak out for and against is for our children," Mark said.
Mark and Tim are no strangers to publicly speaking out about why marriage matters to them and why their family deserves the same respect and support as all other families. Five years ago, they made local headlines when they were denied a family membership to the local YMCA, which would have helped the couple cut down on the expenses of running a fun, healthy and supportive household. The men were told that the YMCA network defined family by Internal Revenue standards and that policy prohibited them from offering an inclusive membership - which Mark knew, based on similar clubs in the area, was not true. They reached out to friends, organized, and helped to change the regional YMCA's policy on offering family memberships to families headed by same-sex couples. "That was a catalyst for us to speak out," Mark said. "After that, we started getting requests to participate in panels and share our story. We felt it was our responsibility to lend a voice."
One of the ways they lent their voice was through the Campaign for Southern Equality, who Mark and Tim connected with last year. The organization was preparing to launch Stage 3 of the "We Do" campaign in North Carolina and South Carolina and were looking for couples to peacefully request marriage licenses in local court houses.
They completed Stage 3 shortly after the May 2012 passage of Amendment One, an anti-gay constitutional amendment that prohibited marriage and any form of family status for same-sex couples in North Carolina. "We weren't surprised that Amendment 1 passed, but we were disappointed," Mark said, explaining, "Basically, our entire lives we've faced laws like Amendment 1. We were pleased to see the metropolitan communities speaking out. We saw that we had allies and were aware that we had people who could process the idea that gay couples are entitled to the same rights and protections."
Those allies - and their commitment to their family - are what fueled Mark and Tim to join on with CSE again this year for Stage 4 of the We Do campaign. They had planned on taking their family to Washington, D.C. so that they could marry, and when CSE called looking for a couple to marry in a public ceremony in DC to conclude Stage 4 of their campaign, Mark and Tim agreed.
During their ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial, Mark and Tim reflected on their 22 years together in a committed relationship. They also reflected on how key historical figures have made their wedding possible. "We reflected on marriage pioneers Richard and Mildred Loving," Mark said, referencing the couple whose Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, ended the federal ban on marriage between people of different races in 1967. "Because of the Lovings, Tim and I are one step closer to having our family fully validated under the law."
After their public ceremony for the We Do campaign, Mark and Tim shared a private reception and ceremony in Alexandria, VA with their family and close friends. The private ceremony was perfect, Tim said. "Our friend Thomas Clarke made the vests we wore and those worn by our best man and son, and Thomas stitched a button in a hidden section of the vest worn by our boys with the words believe and inspire. We loved them. Our Matron of Honor, Hema Sethi blessed us with a wonderful Hindu tradition, and we received a serenade from opera singer Idra Green, who performed 'When You Believe.' We exchanged vows, rings, and jumped the broom. The room was filled with sweet, loving energy and laughter."
Throughout their time with CSE, Mark and Tim spoke out fervently about why the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal respect for their legal marriage because they are a same-sex couple, needed to be overturned. "We are a married couple," Mark said. "We're raising a family. We're responsible, tax-paying people - and we deserve the 1,100-plus protections that married couples are entitled to. If we're not going to speak out for this, then who is?"
On June 26, 2013, Mark, Tim, and their family rejoiced when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a central part of DOMA. Now, Mark and Tim will be able to access many of the protections and responsibilities that marriage triggers at the federal level. After 22 years together, Mark and Tim are thrilled to finally be married. But they know that their home state of North Carolina continues to deny them the respect of marriage. That's why they're speaking out as much as possible about how anti-marriage laws hurt their family.
"If we don't speak out - if we are quiet, ultimately, kids will be harmed," Mark said, "There are just too many people speaking in opposition to them that we need to make our voices that much stronger. We know that all families should matter - but these laws basically say that all families do not matter. They must be repealed so that our government can acknowledge that we do matter and that we have an equal place at the table.
"To see the look in Tim's eyes as he recited his vows to me made my heart leap," Mark explained. "I would marry him again and again, and we will continue to fight the fight to have our family fully recognized as whole citizens in our country."
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