CHARLOTTE — Standing ovations, applause, the sounds of tambourines — and rainbow colors everywhere, on banners and flags and adorning the stoles around the shoulders of clergy celebrating the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina. In a city known for its churches, Holy Trinity Lutheran hosted an interfaith service that resembled a party, as a crowd of 250 – including many same-sex couples and their families — filled seats downstairs and in the balcony.
Though on Tuesday a federal judge said Republican state legislators had the right to challenge the ruling that said North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, on Monday night at Holy Trinity, the mood was joyous.
“Many of us have dreamt of this for a long time,” Rabbi Judy Schindler told She the People after she had joined hands and prayed outside the church with about 20 clergy before the service. The lead rabbi of Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish congregation, has supported same-sex marriage at rallies here and in Washington, D.C., and has officiated at same-sex unions. She said there had been “low moments” during public demonstrations, when hecklers had said she wasn’t worthy of wearing the tallit (prayer shawl), “which was my father’s tallit.” But despite the yells of one very loud heckler on the sidewalk who tried to drown out the prayers, Schindler called the evening and the lifting of the ban “a monumental occasion.”
Support for the quick pace of change in the South, the Bible belt, is far from unanimous in churches and synagogues, and the court’s ruling could have political implications. A recent issue of the weekly Catholic News Herald’s lead story on a diocesan Mass honoring long-time married couples showed a husband and wife kissing, beside the headline “Marriage, celebrated and under fire.”
Many have noted a softening of the Catholic Church’s judgment of same-sex unions because of language coming out of a Vatican synod convened by Pope Francis. But some things do not change. Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte and Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh said in a joint statement: “We know from our Catholic teaching that marriage is a permanent, faithful and fruitful covenant joining a man and a woman. It is our duty to continue to affirm marriage in this way, and it is our hope that the Supreme Court will ultimately agree.”
The Rev. Mark Harris, pastor at First Baptist Church of Charlotte and former Republican primary candidate for the U.S. Senate, has reaffirmed his church’s support of Amendment One to the state constitution. In 2012, state voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, which recognized marriage between one man and one woman as the only valid and legal domestic union in North Carolina.
Harris now supports GOP nominee Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House who, with state Senate leader Phil Berger, is considering the challenge to the judge’s ruling lifting the ban. Tillis’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, supports same-sex marriage.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, an Amendment One supporter, has said it is now time to move on and respect the law – and that includes same-sex marriage. Then again, he is looking at a probable 2016 challenge from Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s Democratic attorney general, who supports gay marriage.
But inside the church on Monday, political discussion was far from the main topic, though lawyers who argued the successful case did get to explain the strategy that helped North Carolina move so far so quickly.
Couples who had just married or were busy making plans held hands or held their children in their arms. Holy Lutheran pastor the Rev. Dr. Nancy Kraft acknowledged “every person who has come out or spoken out.” And the Rev. Dr. Nancy Allison, pastor at Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, told the crowd, “Love is what sustains us.”
Bishop Tonyia Rawls of Sacred Souls Community Church offered the service’s benediction. Rawls, who is African American and attended with her wife, Gwen, told She the People, “The African American church, I believe, is much less homophobic than people make it out to be. We are committed to family, community and also justice. Black folks get this.”
At the Human Rights Campaign 2014 North Carolina Gala in February, She the People first spoke to Lee Knight Caffery and her partner, Dana Draa, part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking to overturn a state law preventing same-sex and unmarried couples from adopting their partners’ children. On Monday, the two were celebrating at Holy Lutheran. They said Draa now would be able to use stepparent adoption, which Knight Caffery called a bit “silly” since 5-year-old Miller and 3-year-old Margot “know they have two parents.” In November, the family will be celebrating both children’s birthdays – and, they said, a wedding.