Written by Connie Larkman
The leaders of High Country UCC in Vilas, N.C., knew they needed to take a stand for marriage equality, but hesitated to pay for anti-Amendment 1 ads in local newspapers and online outlets.
"We had never spoken out in this way before," said Chris May, High Country council moderator and four-year member of the church. "But then our congregation got behind the effort most enthusiastically."
Raising more than $2,250 and combining energies with the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship helped produce 22 ads opposing Amendment 1, said May.
On May 8, North Carolina voters passed the amendment, defeating marriage equality for same-gender couples. The vote was 61 percent to 39 percent. But in seven North Carolina counties the majority voted against discrimination. Watauga County, home to High Country UCC in the northwest part of North Carolina, was one of those seven counties in the 100-county state voting against the amendment.
"We like to believe that our ad campaign may have influenced undecided voters," said May. "In the last few weeks, we have welcomed newcomers to our worship services who have indicated they were inspired by our ads to attend and find out what our church is all about."
May estimates that half of the church's 150 members actively worked to defeat Amendment 1.
"Since President Obama's announcement favoring gay marriage two days after passage of Amendment 1, people have become inspired again and are asking, 'What more can we do?'" said May.
Referring to May 8 as the date when "discrimination against non-traditional couples was written into our state constitution," May said the work of High Country has formed a nationwide nucleus of solidarity.
"It almost seems as if the amendment passing has fueled more interest in a nationwide effort to make this right," said May. "The remarkable thing was that we heard from UCC members, we heard from atheists, we heard from Baptists . . . and it was really unique to see how many different religious identities out there were moved by what we had to do.
"We have received dozens of emails from folks across the nation who've stumbled upon our ads online (www.highcountryucc.org) and wanted to applaud our public statements of inclusion."
May said the church's efforts were energized largely by the contributions of Cath Hopkins, a member of the church's LGBT task force, and Joan Brannon, High Country's peace and justice ministry team leader.
"For Cath, this was a call to step up and speak out," said May. "She's kind of quiet and had never been involved in anything like this before. She has been very vocal, and has found herself talking at town meetings, talking on the radio, things she never imagined she would do."
May summed up her personal perspective of the Amendment 1 challenge in a reflection she shared in the May edition of the church's online newsletter.
"When I was a teenager, struggling to reconcile my sexual orientation with the rest of my life, I could not have imagined that the day would come when even a few states allowed gay marriage," she wrote.
"I could not have dreamed that we'd even be having these discussions in America or voting on these issues. It may seem slow, but we HAVE made progress and have become a more enlightened people.
"Love always finds a way in the end."