As they held hands on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, Kevin Eason and David Daughety prepared to exchange vows and legally promise their lives to each other after eight years of commitment. That day in Washington, D.C., the men were joined by just a few of their family members and friends who came to witness their legal wedding ceremony.
"It felt phenomenal," Kevin said. "To know that we could legally marry - and to know that the U.S. government would respect that marriage, no matter where we live - is amazing."
Kevin and David's wedding on the steps of the Supreme Court was symbolic, a message of hope for what's to come in the campaign to win marriage nationwide.
"The Supreme Court is where the battle for marriage equality will eventually end," Kevin said, looking forward to the day that same-sex couples return to the U.S. Supreme Court, armed with a critical mass of states and public opinion in support of marriage. "So we figured that that's where we wanted our own marriage to start. We wanted to stand where history had already been made so recently - and where in the near future, history will continue to be made."
But Kevin and David aren't from Washington, D.C. - they live in North Carolina, where they'll be celebrating their commitment on March 23 with all of their family members and friends. They should not have had to drive more than four hours to the nation's capital in order to say "I do" - but they had to in order to receive any legal respect for their 8 years of commitment. That's because in North Carolina, a draconian constitutional amendment bars same-sex couples from marrying or receiving any other form of family status.
In May 2012, same-sex couples in North Carolina found themselves at the center of a statewide debate when the anti-family constitutional amendment, Amendment One, was passed at the ballot. For months, marriage supporters canvassed the state and engaged in conversations about why marriage matters - and couples like Kevin and David saw their dreams - their love - put up to a vote.
On Election Day, May 9, David and Kevin - who works at the ACLU of North Carolina - both spent the entire day at the polling booth.
"I will never forget standing at the polls trying to educate people about the harms of the amendment," Kevin explained. "All day long, people who did not know me - had never even spoken to me - came up to me and screamed in my face. It was the first real-life time that I really felt like I was being treated as a lesser individual by strangers."
Later that night, as marriage supporters gathered in a professional building downtown to watch the results, Kevin and David braced themselves.
"There was a drop-down projection screen filling out the poll numbers and results, and people were streaming live feeds and updating congressional maps," Kevin recalled. "The screen kept getting worse and worse - and as the defeat came in, it was nauseating. I had been treated poorly by people who knew me before - but here, I was being dismissed by strangers who knew nothing about me at all."
That realization - that so many of these voters knew nothing about couples like Kevin and David - strengthened the resolve of North Carolina activists like them to keep up the fight.
"That night was hell," Kevin said. "And yet, it started a fire in a lot of people that night to keep working to educate people, to keep showing people that we're just ordinary people - that our love is no different than theirs."
"Amendment One gave us all the more motivation to continue to show that we are 'real' people, with real feelings, real love," Kevin continued. "It gave us even more motivation to raise our voices, to speak up, to explain that we deserve to be treated the same as any other legally married couple. And that's what we're going to continue doing until the day we are treated equally across the country."