10:45 am
Tue March 26, 2013

Triad Same-Sex Couples Vow to Keep Fighting for Equal Rights

Members of the LGBT community in the Triad say they are determined to fight for their right to marry and raise a family.  Monday night in Winston-Salem's Federal Courthouse plaza, about 300 braved a cold wind and falling temperatures at the Light the Way to Justice Candlelight Vigil. It was on the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments regarding two issues related to same-sex marriage. Michelle Hawks and her partner have been together for four years. Last July, they married in Washington, D.C. She says recognizing them as a legal couple does not offend the God they serve. "The Bible says women shouldn't cut their hair, the bible says women shouldn't dress as a man. It's all interpretation. The Bible is based on principals and as long as we can take from the Bible the principals we need to, we're good." Nine states and the District of Columbia have made same-sex marriage legal.

Justin Maxwell came out a year ago when he was 14. He says at first it was scary because he attended a conservative school. "But  I just learned someone is always going to love you and someone is always going to dislike you. So I came out and moved forward. It's made me happier." About the same time, the teenager was adopted by Mark and Tim Maxwell, a gay couple. Justin says they are helping him navigate some social challenges of being a homosexual in North Carolina.

Southern Equality organized this vigil and one that will be held Tuesday evening in Greensboro.  They and similar ones are being held nationwide as the U.S. Supreme Court Justices spend today and tomorrow hearing oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of "Prop 8", California's voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.   They will also determine the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act also called DOMA. This federal law defines marriage as the union between a man and woman, thus, gay and lesbian couples do not enjoy more than 1,100 federal benefits as do their heterosexual counterparts. Southern Equality will also host 10 other vigils across our state this week.

North Carolina is one of 41 states that does not recognize same-sex marriage. But Wake Forest University Political Science Professor John Dinan says if justices apply a higher level of scrutiny, this could change. "There's always the possibility the Supreme Court could invalidate California's proposition 8 on very broad grounds recognizing the federal right to same sex marriage, in that case a federal right would apply throughout the country. It would invalidate North Carolina's same sex marriage amendment and any amendments in other states barring same sex marriage." According to Dinan, the justices have allocated an additional hour each day to hear arguments in the cases. He says this indicates they recognize social attitudes regarding same-sex marriage are changing. Six U.S. states allow civil unions between same-sex couples, but not marriage.

Mark Maxwell and his husband Tim have been together for 22 years. This past January, they married in Washington, D.C. He says DOMA creates a financial strain on their family. "Because we're not recognized as a married couple many thousands of dollars in taxes we pay because we could not file as a family. Secondly, we see on average for LGBT families  roughly a thousand  dollars or more a year that goes out in terms of expenses, in terms of healthcare." The couple lives in Winston-Salem with Justin and three other sons, ages 12-to-24. Maxwell also believes DOMA potentially causes thousands children to live in poverty because their families lose out on thousands of dollars of federal benefits. According to Maxwell and others at the rally, the only way homosexuals and their families will achieve full equality and protection in this country is through judicial action.

Supporters of same-sex marriage in the Triad believe the only way they will gain the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts is through judicial action.