By Carr Harkrader / Guest column

Published in Burlington TimesNews: Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 08:21 PM.
Corrected on Oct. 26

Having been born and raised in Burlington, I’ve watched with great interest how Alamance County has grappled with the recent federal court decisions allowing for same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Some local magistrates refused to marry same-sex couples, citing their religious beliefs. However, as clarification from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts made clear, when your job is to follow the law there is little room for your personal preferences. Beyond this one incident, what I believe will be more impactful, in the long run, is the affirming effect this decision will have on all people in the county — gay and straight.

Growing up, I went to Hillcrest Elementary, Turrentine Middle School, and Williams High School. I attended church with my family, hung out at Joe Davidson Park with my friends, and had my first job at a local ice cream shop.

At every one of those milestones, there were gay and lesbian people. I had teachers who were gay, co-workers who were lesbian, and friends and family members who loved someone of their same gender. They made me a better student, a better Christian, a better employee, and a better friend. They weren’t from New York City or San Francisco; they were from Graham and Snow Camp.

The sad thing is I didn’t realize many of these people were gay at the time. Most were in the closet; they were forced to hide their identity, in part, by the laws of the state that condemned them simply because of who they loved. Marriage was out of the question. Just talking at work about a weekend date with another man could get you fired (and, sadly, it still can, due to North Carolina’s lack of workplace protections for sexual orientation). Imagine waking up every day and worrying if another student would call you a hateful name or if Jesse Helms would get on TV and call you diseased and a sinner.

All residents of Alamance County deserve better than this. That’s why same-sex marriage in North Carolina is so consequential. If you’re reading this in Alamance County right now, then I can assure you that you’ve met a LGBT person. If you’ve worked at a job in Alamance County, you’ve met a LGBT person. If you’ve been stuck in traffic on Church Street, been to the outlets recently, or sat in the stands for a football game on Friday night then, well, you’ve been surrounded by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. They now have the same right as you do to marry the person they love.

I hope with same-sex marriage now legal in North Carolina, our county and our state can recognize the inherent value and worth of everyday folks who have given so much to our area. By treating each other as equals we can only make our community stronger. I respect the religious objections of certain county magistrates, even if I disagree with them. I can only hope that, with this new law, all of us will continue to learn, as the Bible says, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Carr Harkrader was born and raised in Burlington and now lives in

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