Last year, Heard it Here covered the legalization of same-sex marriage in North Carolina. The article featured Keith Hicks and Wayne Berrier who were one of the first couples to be issued a marriage license on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Over a year later, Heard it Here catches up with Hicks and Berrier to look back on the day they were issued a marriage license, their wedding and what changes they have seen in their lives following the local and national legalization of same-sex marriage.
While U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. debated his future ruling last year over an appeal to overturn North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Keith Hicks and Wayne Berrier headed to the Register of Deeds Office hoping, along with the other same-sex couples joining them in line, that the ban would be overturned.
“We had camped out for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the week before and it came down to that Friday night at 5 p.m.” said Hicks. “We hoped they’d do the ruling earlier so it was grueling over the weekend.”
Following the weekend, Hicks and Berrier used their vacation time to take Monday off in order to be the one of the first couples in Winston-Salem issued a license. While they only had to wait a few days from the time of the ruling to receive a license, the process for Hicks and Berrier was a long time coming. The couple was together 25 years before being afforded the recognition of marriage.
“I remember the excitement of it,” said Hicks. “It was an incredible day. A feeling of euphoria and disbelief that this was actually happening.”
Hicks, 51, and Berrier, 55, who live a few miles from downtown Winston-Salem are both active members of Pride Winston-Salem, an organization that holds many events throughout the year supporting members of the local LGBTQ community. Hicks served as president until the end of last year while Berrier holds the position of at-large board member. According to Hicks, Pride Winston-Salem is the fastest growing Pride organization in North Carolina. In addition to their Pride involvement, Hicks works in outside sales while Berrier works in the corporate office of a local credit union.
The following Sunday after receiving their license, Hicks and Berrier were married at a Pride event in downtown Winston-Salem. Jesse Duncan, a local nondenominational minister, presided over the ceremony that Sunday as crowds gathered to watch what was taking place on a large stage on Trade Street. Duncan remembers the difficulties he faced trying to convey the weight of this historic moment taking place in front of a crowd of people, many of whom were strangers.
“I remember having such a challenge to put into words for these couples who had such a long history of love,” said Duncan. “How do you put those feelings and emotions and that history out to a crowd of people? How do you make people understand that this is not a publicity stunt and help them understand that this is something real?”
Even a year after his first same-sex ceremony, Duncan still admits that the terminology change takes getting used to.
“It sounded odd at first to say husband and husband and wife and wife,” said Duncan. “Even a year after having marriage equality in North Carolina…it still feels exciting.”
Hicks and Berrier feel similarly about this new title for their relationship.
“We both thought it would be hard to say husband but it’s easier than we thought,” said Berrier. “I don’t think saying this is my partner really justified what we had.”
This summer, eight months after Hicks and Berrier were married, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. The couple says they feel the impact that both the local and national rulings have had on their daily lives.
“It’s amazing the difference in the feeling we both had in the past when we would introduce each other,” said Hicks. “We would say this is my partner and inevitably get a questioning look and now it’s this is my husband. Both of us have been amazed at how easily it rolls off of the tongue and how very well received it is.”
Hicks and Berrier say this summer’s federal legalization of same-sex marriage only further legitimizes their year-long marriage. Though the couple says this has been a happy year for them, they recognize work still to be done for the LGBTQ community. They hope their involvement with Pride Winston-Salem will allow them to help other members of the LGBTQ community struggling to overcome prejudice or internal struggles.
“It’s an internal thing you deal with,” said Hicks. “My advice is to love yourself. In our community, we tend to be self-destructive. It’s hard to come to terms with knowing you don’t fit the mold of what society thinks you should be. The biggest thing is to love yourself and who you are and accept that before anyone else can.”
(An earlier version of this article reported that Hicks and Berrier were the first same-sex couple in Winston-Salem to receive a marriage license. A glitch in the system gave them the first registration number. However, the first couple to physically receive a license was Billy Rucker and Thomas White.)