It was one year ago today — Oct. 13, 2014 — that dozens of anxious, happy couples lined up early on a drizzly Monday morning awaiting for the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office to open. Many had been waiting for this moment for decades, some only a few months or years. But each couple, unique in their own special ways, shared one common characteristic — as LGBT couples they had long been denied the right to wed in their home state and hometown.
After a long and winding legal journey, that finally changed on Oct. 10, 2014, when a district court judge upheld the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on marriage equality and overturned North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage.
That order had come down late on a Friday evening. While some registers of deeds offices remained open — in Greensboro, Raleigh and Asheville — Mecklenburg Register of Deeds J. David Granberry had already closed his office. But he was prepared for the couples, and the resulting media frenzy (which had already kept him busy a full week before), come that special Monday morning.
That day — from its rainy, cloudy start to the sunny evening that brought a touching community-wide celebration of marriage at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church — remains one of if not the single-most memorable journalistic experiences in my career, especially combined with the week of work, court-watching and reporting that preceded it.
I wrote about that special week, special day and the days afterward in November last year. You can revisit that special retrospective here.
But what struck me most then, as it still does today, about those precious few history-making days was just how personally powerful it was to me and to everyone else gathered to witnessed the advancements first hand. The couples. The activists. The leaders and supporters. Members of the media. All of us had invested so much time, energy, emotion and anticipation in the work toward that one small moment when the register’s office doors swung open and cheers, laughter and tears came flowing from couples rushing inside.
Moments like these are rare and fleeting, but their sheer emotional power is overwhelming even now a month later. I imagine I’ll look back fondly on these memories in future decades with the same sense of awe — amazed that history turned so quickly, amazed that it took so long to recognize the inherent humanity and equality present in every committed, loving relationship.
While a break to celebrate a hard-fought success is both healthy and deserved, we can’t pause for too long. The movement we’ve built — the resources gathered and expended — to reach this milestone can’t go to waste. Those resources and the empowerment we feel from this most recent, remarkable string of victories can push us forward into more necessary fights for fuller equality — in employment, in healthcare, in housing, in the criminal (in)justice system.
Here are a few other special memories and stories…
First up, this awesome photo essay compiled by friend Cameron Joyce, who spent hours volunteering his time to assist me in my reporting that week and on the day marriage came to Mecklenburg…
This wrap-up and review piece was originally published in QNotes’ Oct. 24, 2014, print edition. A favorite excerpt:
Couple Jannet Hince and Donna Travis, both in their 60s, were among the 35 married on Oct. 13. Together for 38 years, the couple had waited patiently for the day to arrive when their home state might finally and legally recognize their relationship, though they’d thought of going out of state for their marriage.
“We had been looking at going to Washington [to get married], but we really wanted to get married in North Carolina, so we’d just been dragging our feet hoping this would happen,” Hince said. “We wanted our marriage to be recognized and legal in North Carolina where we live.”
Unfortunate events over the weekend forced their hands.
“A friend of ours unexpectedly died Saturday night and it made us realize we don’t want to wait,” Hince said. “We’ve waited 38 years. It’s time.”
“We deserve it after all these years,” Travis said.
If you need a quick-and-dirty reminder of all the twists, turns and unexpected events that led up to that special day last fall, catch this quick timeline.
And, some favorite photos below documenting this most extraordinary moment in my life. (Find more photos of couples and the first day of marriage equality in Charlotte in past QNotes stories here and here.)