I met Mark Chilton the evening this photo was taken. It was in late May, 2013; Mark would remember the exact date since it was the night he was arrested during a Moral Monday protest.
Mark was mayor of Carrboro, NC, at the time, and he was standing against the hard right turn taken by the state’s General Assembly. I had been arrested on May 13 and I was volunteering to notarize appearance waivers for people who were arrested.
We struck up a friendship based in large part on our beliefs that people deserve basic rights, including the right to have their needs met — to be paid a living wage for a week’s work, to send their children to decent schools, to have access to quality health care and to vote. He is one of many, many friends I have made in the Forward Together Movement.
When Mark’s mayoral term expired, he decided to run for Register of Deeds in Orange County. In North Carolina, the office registers deeds, births, deaths and marriages.
That might not seem like a good next political step after being mayor, but Mark saw something very important he could do with the office — he ran on a promise that he would recognize — and register — same-sex marriages, even though the state has a constitutional amendment forbidding marriage equality.
In Tuesday’s primary, Mark beat out the incumbent, and since he now runs unopposed, he is just about assured of being sworn in come January.
Mark considers Amendment One unconstitutional, and since he will swear to uphold the US Constitution first and the state Constitution second, he will recognize same-sex marriages.
Marriage equality is happening with remarkable speed across the country. I think Amendment One was a last-gasp attempt to keep change from happening, and it will be declared unconstitutional.
My pastor, Rev. Joe Hoffman, is among the people who filed suit against Amendment One, using the argument that it violates his religious freedom to perform marriages of people in his congregation. The Campaign for Southern Equality is housed in my church.
I joined First Congregational UCC because of its views on marriage equality. I would never attend a church where my sister and her spouse weren’t welcome as who they were.
My sister was able to marry the love of her life before she died of lung cancer in 2006. Her spouse made all the decisions, as was appropriate. No one in my family would have tried to prevent that, but it was wonderful that they had the legal protection in case an asshole emerged from the woodwork.
I have heard horror stories of people being prevented from seeing their loved one in hospitals to loss of property after a death.
As the law stands now, my gay and lesbian friends can be married in one state and “legal strangers” in another. They have to make all kinds of legal preparations to battle that status and they still don’t have the same rights I have — simple because I fell in love with someone of the opposite gender.
The way I see it is that the only marriage that’s any of my business is my own. I actually believe my sister’s marriage strengthened mine because her inability to marry for more than 20 years taught me to appreciate the rights I have and made me want to fight for her to have equal rights.
At my sister’s funeral, the pastor — and evangelical Christian who believes God made us just how we were meant to be — described my sister and her spouse’s love as “extravagant.”
“Such extravagant love can be given only by God,” he said.
I love that line. It has given me a lot of comfort in the years since my sister died, and it has given me the conviction that every human being deserves the right to express that love and to be given the same legal protections I get.
Mark Chilton ran on a promise to recognize that right, and he won. It gives me hope that we are almost there.
Thanks to Mark — and to everyone who voted for him.