By Betsy Fife Archer
When I was a little girl, I dreamed of my wedding often. Not the dress or whom I would marry, but I dreamt of the traditions I would create. That is why I started saving every flower ever given to me. I would carefully hang each one upside down over the top of my bathroom mirror. Once they were dried to perfection, I would pluck the petals and place them in a giant potato chip tin I had salvaged for just such an occasion. I decided this would be what was thrown down by the flowers girls: a part of my past meeting my future.
It didn’t exactly happen that way. When it was time for me to get married, the flowers had become covered with mildew, inevitable in the south in the summer. (By the way, as I am writing this, “Going to the Chapel” is blaring form someone’s radio nearby. I am not even kidding!) They had been tossed into the garage somewhere to rot under layers of childhood memories and my grandparents’ old lawn furniture. I had to regroup.
The first time we got married, it was a grand party with probably too many guests and too much food. It was fantastic. To feel the support and warmth from people we hadn’t known in years, but who had helped shape us in one way or another.
The second time we got married was three days after marriage equality became legal in Massachusetts (where we lived at the time). It was a quiet, backyard affair, with just our immediate community. And now, I dream of a third wedding: a legally recognized union in our home state of North Carolina.
My partner and I took a hiatus from political activism in our late twenties. Too caught up with the tumult of young adulthood, we focused on building our home together and beginning careers, feeling like there wasn’t room to give too much to anything else. We got comfortable and felt safe in Massachusetts. Once we moved back to North Carolina, we realized that we weren’t comfortable any longer and couldn’t remain idle. We became involved with the Campaign for Southern Equality and began to work toward marriage equality in the south. The actions associated with the campaign involve requesting marriage licenses at southern clerk’s offices knowing we will be denied. There have been many couples across the south who have participated, each faced with the same answer when asking for their civil right, “The laws of the State of __________ don’t allow me to issue a marriage license to people of the same sex.” We have asked three times and been denied three times. This last time, January 11, 2013, was the hardest.
As we start thinking about expanding our family, the reality of what it means for a queer couple to raise a family in the south has really started to set in. There are some really great things about being here: the weather, good beer, good food, life-long friends, family near-by. But it is also scary to think that, because the state doesn’t recognize our marriage, I won’t have the same rights to any future children that I have to my son now. And that scares me. If our families weren’t here, I might feel just scared enough to pack-up and move back to Massachusetts.
But that isn’t the solution anymore than complacency is the solution. So, we will keep stepping up as a family, even when it is hard. We will show our son that you stand up for your own rights, but you also stand up for the rights of others. Maybe times are changing. Time will tell what the Supreme Court says. Until we have equal rights on a federal level, we have to keep stepping up.
Betsy Fife Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College. She has spent seven years as a therapist working with children, adolescents and families of all configurations in various contexts. She has presented to college audiences in Massachusetts and North Carolina around being a queer parent, being in a long-term relationship and working against unjust laws that make her marriage in legal limbo outside of the northeast. She is a founding member of YouthPride, a queer youth organization started in Atlanta in 1995 that continues to this day. Betsy continues to volunteer her time with the Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization based in Asheville North Carolina which serves to promote the “full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.” Betsy is also an active artist specializing in hand-hooked rugs, fine art embroidery and wedding photography. Betsy teaches fiber arts workshops across the south and photographs weddings wherever someone will pay her to go. Betsy lives in Asheville, NC with her partner of more than 15 years and their amazing toddler son. Betsy is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Charlotte Caponga-Amias, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Charlotte blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com.