Thoughts on Marriage in NC, Post Amendment One

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

By Aubrey Daquiz

What could put a damper on a beautiful summer weekend wedding? Perhaps the fact that it’s located in North Carolina in the wake of Amendment One's passage, which defined marriage between one man and one woman as "the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State". As I planned to visit my former state of residence, this timely event gave me an opportunity to reflect on what the amendment means to me, those I love, and the work I do.

As an Asian-American woman with strong roots on the west coast, I never expected to find myself "back east", let alone in the southeast. During my early days in Durham, NC, a middle-aged white woman earnestly praised me for being “out here in public... together” with my white male partner. Upon learning we were from the Pacific Northwest, she seemed relieved in replying, “Ohh... you must see a lot more of that out there.” This was in the fall of 2007. Although it was a striking and sad reminder of the misguided views many still hold about interracial relationships, I often share this anecdote to contrast the multitude of progressive people and work I witnessed during my short tenure in the state, including turning the state blue in the 2008 election for the first time in decades.

Specifically, I see the passage of Amendment One as an example of how conservatives manipulate an issue like same-sex marriage during an election year to divide communities of folks who should otherwise be working in solidarity (i.e., the gay community and black community, as if they were mutually exclusive) for the rights of all. As a public health student and former domestic violence agency volunteer, I am especially anxious about how the vague language of the amendment may disproportionately affect all unmarried people through increased barriers to healthcare access, domestic violence protection, and child custody issues.

During my short visit to NC for a summer wedding, I expected to be bombarded with an outpouring of negative emotions from my friends and former colleagues--gay, lesbian, and straight. I was surprised to hear a range of sadness as well as messages of hope. A black gay man shared that he was disappointed in the vote, but thrilled that the NAACP and Obama declared support of same-sex marriage. A white lesbian couple, who now cares for their nephew as their own child, talked about the fear of a legal battle if the child’s father decides he wants full-custody someday. The bride-to-be felt helpless when she realized the unfortunate timing and had to swear to local officials that she was not entering into a same-sex marriage to obtain her marriage license. She affirmed her personal power by firmly adding, “but I believe that all people should be able to get married.”

Maybe things would have been different on May 9. It’s likely that devastation was the immediate aftermath of the months of work that went into campaigning against the amendment. However, most of the folks I know have been born and raised in NC, and now choose it as their home, so it’s possible that they know its limitations all too well. These friends and colleagues also work with historically marginalized communities (e.g., people living with HIV, people recovering from drug addiction), so they have a heightened awareness of systemic oppression and how long-term efforts are needed to dismantle it.

Although my heart aches for my lesbian and gay friends in the state, Jacob Topia reframes the issue in saying that the passage of Amendment One also means that conservatives are forced to be on the defensive because LGBTQ issues have gained, and continue to gain, increasing support as evidenced by the recent ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

It’s clear that the amendment serves to maintain a very traditional definition of family as originating only from married heterosexual couples. This creates even more barriers to supporting the healthy individuals and families we need to build strong communities, and fails to acknowledge the incredible diversity of families in North Carolina and throughout this country. Being at Forward Together, I am fortunate to be in the midst of cross-issue, cross-cultural work that is crossing state lines to support a diverse range of families. Moreover, a setback like Amendment One can serve as a golden opportunity to galvanize folks to engage in the redefinition of families through increased awareness and collaboration on local levels and beyond.

Aubrey Daquiz is a Filipina-American who is serving as a Youth Organizing Intern with Forward Together through the graduate program at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.