On their wedding day, turned away by NC magistrates

I met the love of my life more than 40 years ago in Raleigh. Thomas is a lifelong North Carolinian. I was a recent transplant from Vermont. We are both legally blind, and soon after we met, we moved to Winston-Salem to work for the Industries of the Blind. Our friendship blossomed into love, and in 1976, Thomas proposed. I very happily said yes.

Soon after, we went to our local courthouse to receive a civil marriage license from one of the magistrates there, so we could commit our lives to each through a legal union. I was so excited. People always say your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, and I was expecting mine to be exactly that.

But when we walked into that government office together, we were told that the magistrate on duty wouldn’t give us a marriage license. I was flabbergasted. We had planned everything, we had all our paperwork and we were legally eligible to get married.

So why wouldn’t he marry us? The reason, it turned out, was because Thomas is African-American, and I am white. The magistrate told us that marrying an interracial couple went against his religious beliefs. Our happy day quickly turned into a nightmare.

I was so surprised that a government official was using his own personal religious beliefs to deny us a civil marriage license that I didn’t know what to say. There was a second magistrate on duty, but he, too, said he wouldn’t marry us, because doing so would violate his religious beliefs. One of them took out a Bible and began to lecture us about their religious views and why Thomas and I should not be together. We eventually went down the street to the local Legal Aid office and returned with a lawyer, but the magistrates still refused. It was so upsetting.

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I will never forget how painful it was to be told by government officials that they would not give Thomas and me a civil marriage license because of the color of our skin. It was supposed to be a happy day, but instead we were turned away because of somebody else’s religious views and treated like second-class citizens.

I am a church-going Christian. My faith has never taught me to turn people away because of who they love, and I never believed that my God would have any problem with me marrying a wonderful man like Thomas.

But even if my faith were different, if I worked for the government, I would know that I have to treat all members of the public equally, regardless of my religious views. Government employees aren’t working a religious job; they take an oath to serve all the public, and they’re supposed to be impartial.

This year, when I learned that legislators in Raleigh were pushing a law that would allow magistrates to refuse to marry couples on religious grounds, I felt the pain of that day all over again. Senate Bill 2 would give magistrates the ability to discriminate against couples exactly the same way they discriminated against Thomas and me almost 40 years ago. Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill after it was passed by the legislature, but the Senate has already overridden his veto, and the House could do the same.

Thomas and I eventually did get married, and a court later ruled that those two magistrates violated the law when they refused to marry us, but the pain from that day – when government officials used their own religious beliefs to discriminate against us and keep Thomas and I from marrying each other – will never leave us.

Whether gay or straight, black or white, Jew or Gentile, nobody has a right to tell anyone who they can love or marry. House representatives must finally stop Senate Bill 2 and sustain the governor’s veto so that no other couple in North Carolina ever has to go through what we did when they want to marry the person they love.

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