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Patrick Gannon: ‘It’s history, no matter how you look at it’

RALEIGH – The enormity of a judge’s decision late last week to allow same-sex marriages in North Carolina probably didn’t hit some people until they watched the video of two men getting married live on TV or later on newspaper websites.

As of Monday afternoon, three days after the ruling, a video of the two Wake County sheriff’s deputies exchanging vows at the local register of deeds office had been viewed more than 12,200 times at newsobserver.com, far more than your average video on the Raleigh newspaper’s website.

Surely, some people who watched were disturbed or concerned that same-sex marriages could take place in North Carolina, especially just a couple of years removed from the passage of Amendment One. Others witnessed it and cheered or cried out of happiness for the couple and what their bond symbolized statewide.

The impromptu marriage came moments after a federal judge in Asheville signed an order declaring the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in North Carolina, which joins 30 states where such unions are legal – at least until and unless some further court action changes that.

Reaction was swift and strong from both sides. Some thanked the judge. Others blamed him.

Supporters of the decision deemed it “life-changing” for gay and lesbian couples. “This is a historic day for freedom and equality in North Carolina,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

Others decried it as an affront to the Bible’s teachings. “It was a blow to all of us who hold God’s Word as sacred and supreme over all,” according to an action alert on the website of the NC Values Coalition.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, meanwhile, recalled that 61 percent of state voters voted for the 2012 constitutional amendment “to ensure the preservation of marriage defined as the union between one man and one woman.”

“What does it say about the state of our nation when a large majority of voters can have their reasoned decision overturned by a single, unelected individual – an individual who waited until a Friday after the close of the normal court day to issue his ruling?” Forest wrote in a statement.

Conversely, Chris Sgro, executive director of the advocacy group Equality NC, deemed the ruling a positive “historic moment.”

“With it, we celebrate with so many North Carolinians who have worked tirelessly over decades to change hearts, minds and unequal laws in the state we call home,” Sgro said. “Love won and the barriers to it are done.”

Back in Wake County, during their brief ceremony, the sheriff’s deputies, Chad Biggs and Chris Creech, talked about their love for their 12-year-old daughter and each other, exchanged vows and rings and then embraced and kissed each other, likely becoming the first gay couple married in Wake County.

Under the glare of television cameras, the minister asked them if there was any legal reason they couldn’t be married that day. Both responded in the negative.

And that was history, whichever way you choose to look at it.

Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.

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