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NC: Triangle residents discuss same-sex civil marriage

Suzanne Luper, left, the director of Triangle Pastoral Counseling, thinks marriage revolves around love whether or not the partners are of different sexes. David Kesterson, an accountant, opposes marriage between same-sex partners. Staff Photos by Ethan Hyman

[Welcome, readers from RawStoryQ. There’s an update at the end, with a short feature on what life is like in the Triangle for gay folks.]

There’s a great article by Yonat Shimron and Martha Quillan in today’s Raleigh News & Observer, A struggle to define marriage, that takes a look at the issue at the local and national level. This area is generally a gay-friendly bubble of tolerance in an otherwise Red State, but it’s interesting to read what is going through the minds of straight residents these days. The state has not yet placed an amendment to its constitution on the ballot, though two attempts failed prior to the election. Those that proposed the measures plan to bring them up again in this legislative session.

David Kesterson and Suzanne Luper have much in common. Both their fathers were Baptist ministers. Both were born and reared in the South. Both married and had two children. Both are in their 50s. But on the thorny issue of same-sex marriage, they part ways. Kesterson of Raleigh thinks marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. Luper of Wake Forest thinks it should be extended to two people who love each other, regardless of gender. Kesterson and Luper have made their decisions. Others may be prompted to make one soon.

On Jan. 20, President Bush will be sworn in for his second term. If his campaign promise holds true, he will push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. If he doesn’t, North Carolina’s General Assembly, which convenes this month, may consider a state constitutional amendment.

…In North Carolina, where there was no ballot initiative, hundreds boarded buses to Washington to attend a “Mayday for Marriage” rally in October. A month earlier, they packed Raleigh’s RBC Center to hear child psychologist James Dobson of the Colorado-based Focus on the Family speak of the sanctity of traditional marriage.

…An October poll by The News & Observer showed that 61 percent of North Carolina voters would favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage. The poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“There are a lot of people out there who hold traditional values,” said Bill Brooks, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council. “It’s hard to get them riled up. But they’re willing to go to the polls and express their beliefs about marriage.”

Although a majority of North Carolinians appear to oppose same-sex marriage, gays and lesbians across the state have made strides in the past decade. Several municipalities, including Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Durham, have offered benefits to partners of gay employees. In November, Wilmington lawyer Julia Boseman was elected the first openly gay legislator in North Carolina history.

Julia Boseman.

[Julia Boseman’s election was quite contentious with a great deal of homophobia dealt her way by her opponent, Woody White . The Wilmington (NC) StarNewsOnline withdrew its endorsement of White when he decided that gay baiting/gay bashing was a legitmate campaign tactic. I posted about that battle here.]

“Despite the efforts to deny equal marriage rights, there’s no going back culturally,” said Mark Kleinschmidt, a Chapel Hill councilman who is openly gay. “The horse is out of the barn.”

For Kesterson, marriage is all about children. “With a mother and father you get balance,” said Kesterson, who works from his home as an independent job recruiter. “I know there are husbands and wives that abuse their children. But I just think in the long run it’s better for the parents to be a mom and a dad.”

…”I can’t condemn somebody to the point where I would deny them human companionship,” Kesterson said. Gay and lesbian couples should be able to visit each other in hospital intensive care units, he said, and be able to handle other benefits legally.

Several years ago, a gay couple moved in next door in their neighborhood, Cameron Park. Kesterson and his wife hoped for a family with children. But they’ve come to respect the two men.

“These guys are great,” he said. “They’re kind, thoughtful, friendly, and they look after the neighborhood.” He would go even further. If asked, he would be happy to be a witness to their civil union. But, he added, he would not attend a marriage ceremony.

“Marriage is all about bringing people together who can make families,” he said. “I don’t buy that two fathers or two mothers are just as good.”

Preserving bonds

…In her 15 years as a counselor, Luper has come to believe that same-sex couples need marriage as much as straight couples.

Growing up in Texas, Luper said she was influenced by her father’s sermons, which stressed God’s unconditional love. Her father was not the most progressive Baptist, she said, but he believed strongly in civil rights.

“He used to say that God was big enough that he didn’t need to be defended. God would allow us to ask questions.”

[Luper] went to work for Triangle Pastoral Counseling and expanded her client base to include many straight couples. Still, she says, 70 percent to 80 percent of her clientele is gay or lesbian, and she has spent thousands of hours talking with them about the difficulties they face, their fears, their joys, their heartbreaks.

To those who fear that same-sex marriage would unravel the fabric of society, Luper claims just the opposite. “A marriage covenant plays a significant role in keeping people together during the times when everything is not perfect,” Luper said.

N&O; staff writer Yonat Shimron’s contact info:

919-829-4891 or

Gay Christians from St.John’s MCC Church. Photo: M.J. Sharp

UPDATE: For an idea of what gay life is like in the Triangle, I highly recommend the Bob Moser article in the Independent Weekly, entitled In the Triangle, gay-bashing wasn’t happening to us. Compared to the horrors of being gay in Alabama, this area is a queer paradise.

In the 20-odd years since, the Triangle has been part of a revolution so quiet that even the revolutionaries hardly noticed it. Back in the early ’80s, folks who wanted genuine queer culture–and genuine safety–still had no choice but to high-tail it to a handful of ultra-urban destinations: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, D.C. Now, the Triangle is part of a slowly expanding list of smaller cities and midsize metro areas where the sight of two women smooching in public is no more remarkable than a traffic jam.

Becoming one of America’s islands of tolerance is one hell of an accomplishment, especially when your island sits smack in the middle of a state that kept Uncle Jesse in the U.S. Senate for 30 years. For gay people lucky enough to live in the Triangle, the benefits are abundant. You can be openly queer without feeling like you’re walking around with a “kick me” sign. You can read honest coverage of queer issues in predominantly straight media outlets like The Independent. You can sit back, send your $50 a year to the Human Rights Campaign, and feel like you’ve done your bit for gay rights.

But there’s something weird about living a life of such relative luxury when you know that just a few miles down the road, there’s no shortage of places where being gay (or even suspected of it) means constantly looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering where the next taunt, the next wad of spit, the next blow might come from.

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Pam Spaulding

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