By MITCH WEISS
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A two-week-long campaign to protest North Carolina’s laws prohibiting gay marriage ended with two demonstrators being arrested Friday in Asheville after they refused to leave a county office building where marriage licenses are granted.
Elizabeth Eve and the Rev. Kathryn Cartledge sat on the floor of the Buncombe County Register of Deeds and refused to move until they were arrested and led away in handcuffs. Authorities said the two were charged with second-degree trespassing and released later in the day with a scheduled court appearance on Dec. 5.
The arrests followed a downtown rally that drew about 300 people, where same-sex couples were blessed by clergy members in attendance. The rally culminated the two-week “We Do” effort organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality, which opposes laws that prohibit same-sex marriage. The group says Asheville is a testing ground for tactics it plans to deploy across North Carolina and other southern states next year.
“I feel so hopeful,” Cartledge, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, said after she and her companion were released. “I feel so much hope for the future. Maybe it’s the wind blowing outside, but I know that in my lifetime, before I die, I’ll marry Elizabeth Eve.”
Asheville, a bohemian university town in western North Carolina with a large gay and lesbian population, is friendly territory for the campaign. Drew Reisinger, the county register of deeds, told gay couples applying for marriage licenses that he would be honored to grant their applications someday, but that current state law forbids it.
“I agree we need equal rights for all people,” he said.
Over the past two weeks, about 18 couples have been denied marriage licenses in Buncombe County, according to organizers. Two others have succeeded in having their legal, out-of-state marriages registered. The campaign unfolds amid heightened interest in the issue in North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled state legislature voted last month to approve a public referendum for next May on whether gay marriage, already illegal in North Carolina, should be prohibited in the state constitution.
The amendment, if approved by a majority of voters, would also bar the state from recognizing civil unions and other same-sex partnerships. But companies would still be permitted to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.
Gay marriage opponents have called the We Do campaign a tactical mistake that will backfire by making people more likely to support a constitutional ban on the legal recognition of same-sex unions. A call to referendum supporters was not immediately returned Friday.
Cartledge and Eve said they went to Friday’s rally planning to get arrested.
“I think it’s time for us because we’re both in our mid-60s,” Cartledge said. “We’ve been together for 30 years. We’ve raised our families together: two daughters and four grandchildren. I think it’s important for us to do this work now to drive home that it’s not only time but to also teach our grandchildren that it’s OK to resist laws that treat you less than equal.”