They do, too: Same-sex couples in WNC embrace new legal landscape
Jamie Kemper knew it’d happen. She just didn’t think it’d happen this quickly.
“We thought it’d be a few years,” Kemper said.
But now that gay marriage is legal in North Carolina, she and her partner are jumping at the chance to wed. Of course, like a lot of weddings, their jump is a months-long, methodical, planning-oriented leap.
“We are planning on it,” said Kemper, who lives in Haywood County. “We decided to wait, we’re actually in the midst of putting a wedding together this spring.”
The two women — lesbians — have been partners for seven years. But now they will be afforded the same ritual as the rest of society.
That’s a big change for the couple — “It’s easier with taxes, but it goes deeper, with kids and stuff” — and a fairly sizeable societal shift. Gay married couples can now enjoy the same legal standing as their heterosexual counterparts.
“Seven years ago you couldn’t really walk into a Wal-Mart without someone giving you the look,” Kemper reflected.
But now, the couple is looking forward to a June ceremony at Castle Lady Hawk near Cullowhee.
“It’s actually very beautiful,” Kemper said. “Most people have never heard of it.”
Haywood resident Jeanne Nader was also surprised by the timing of the recent legal shift. Like Kemper, she was optimistic but prepared to wait.
“I thought it’d eventually happen in North Carolina,” Naber said, “just not this fast.”
Not that Naber was holding out for her home state to catch up. She married her partner years ago.
“We’ve already been married nine years,” Naber noted.
In 2005, the couple was on a business trip to Vancouver, Canada. While in a land with more favorable laws, they decided to go for it.
“We thought it’d be kinda cool, to go ahead and do that,” Naber recalled. “We weren’t going to tell anybody, it was just for us.”
The idea emerged in the kitchen.
“We were up in Canada,” Naber said. “We were sitting across the kitchen table and I said, ‘Maybe we should get married.’ And she said, ‘Is that a proposal?’ And I said, “I guess it is.’”
For years the couple has felt like a bona fide married couple. With or without validation in North Carolina.
“We knew at the time,” Naber said, “somewhere in the world, we are legally married.”
But now it’s different. Now the couple’s relationship will be legally recognized in their home state. And that’s a good feeling.
“It’s wonderful that North Carolina recognizes it,” Naber said. “It’s just a really awesome feeling to know that in my home state that no matter what anybody else thinks, it’s the law now. It’s just wonderful to have that. What an empowering feeling.”
But in a way, the home turf validation is just a bonus. The couple already felt connected, already felt married.
“This is everyday life for me already,” Naber said, adding that she recognized the shift in the legal landscape is a historical cultural moment.
Still, she’s taking it in stride. The couple has “never been the kind of people that go to parades and say, ‘Hey, I’m gay, this is me.”
“It’s a big deal, it’s wonderful,” Naber stressed, “but I’m not gonna go blow my horn, or howl at the moon like I do on New Year’s Eve.”
One day soon, she hopes, everyone will feel as comfortable and casual about same-sex relationships. She looks forward to a time when sexual orientation isn’t such a focal point.
“Let’s get on with it,” Naber laughed. “I’ve got my life to live.”
For some in society it may take a while to “get on with it.” Some individuals, often citing religious reservations, remain opposed to the concept of same-sex marriage.
“I think there are people that will never accept it,” Naber said. “They’ve fought and they’ve fought. And that’s fine if that’s what they believe, but they have to realize I have feelings too.”
Naber recognizes that just because there has been a change in legalities, that doesn’t mean that society en masse is on board. Especially in the areas of the country such as the South — North Carolina is not California, it’s not Canada.
“I think in some areas of the country society has pushed the law, but in other places the law has pushed society,” she said.
Kemper agrees. But she’s also hoping the legalities will light a fire within society. She feels it’s time and the country is ready.
“I think that society has progressed, but I think the legality of it changing, that will propel everything forward,” Kemper said.
“I think that it’s something that’s growing,” Naber said. “Look how far we’ve come just in the last few years.”
Naber points out that this country has overcome other obstacles, has broken down other walls that once seemed formidable but do not appear surreal in hindsight.
“There’s people around here that say, ‘Oh no, I’m not gonna believe. They said the same things about blacks and slavery and women voting,” Naber said. “I hope in my lifetime we see that, as a society, that we can accept everybody for who they are.”
She’s confident that’ll happen soon enough.
“How can you not believe in love?” Naber asked.