US: Activists apply for unattainable marriage licenses in Southern states to push for equality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Gay couples in two North Carolina cities lined up at government counters to ask for marriage licenses they knew would be denied, in an effort to push the US South towards marriage equality, despite opposition being strong.

Couples went out to join the, We Do Campaign, an effort by the pro-equality group, Campaign for Southern Equality, to protest against state laws believed by activists to be unjust, and in an effort to call for full equality under federal law, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

As part of the campaign, couples in seven Southern states have been applying for marriage licenses in January. At the final stop, on Thursday, couples expect to be denied licenses in Arlington, Virginia, before marching on to Washington DC, where equal marriage is legal.

“We have to leave our home state to get married, so that’s a little sad,” said L. Rankin, 45, after the assistant register of deeds in her city of Winston-Salem refused a license to her and partner Kristin Hedin, 38.

Participants say the point of the campaign is to ensure that lawmakers, and neighbours know that they are not going away, even if standing up for equality could prove uncomfortable because of strong opposition in a part of the US which has become known for it.

“The South has been written off as being unwinnable when it comes to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights,” said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality and a United Church of Christ minister.

“One of the unintended consequences of that is that LGBT people also get written off,” she said.

Given that Maine, Maryland and Washington all legalised equal marriage in 2012, as well as Barack Obama becoming the first US president to declaire support for same-sex marriage, gay rights campaigners billed 2012, as a watershed year.

Despite these positives, however, North Carolina became the last state in the Southeast region to add a voter-approved ban on equal marriage to its constitution, back in May.

Some of the thirty-five couples taking part in the campaign this month have married outside of their home states, but said they still want to remain living there.

“I can go to a restaurant, and I can order sweet tea and grits and they have them,” said Sara Bell, 31, a lifelong resident of Mississippi. “I don’t think that I should have to leave those things behind just to be who I am.”

A report was released which suggests that there was a new, and rapid shift in support of equal marriage in the US, except in southern states.

The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes equal marriage, has not taken any action in response to the campaign spokesman Thomas Peters said.

“Obviously these are acts of civil disobedience against laws passed overwhelmingly by voters in those states,” he said.

Because it is unlikely that the Southern states will legalise marriage equality soon, activists aim to press for national change.

The US Supreme Court has announced that it will hear two days of arguments relating to same-sex marriage at the end of March.

With no imminent likelihood of winning same-sex marriage rights at the state level in the South, activists are pressing for national change. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases challenging laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.