Wednesday, May 9, 2012

North Carolina Said No. I've Said Yes--Twice

This week, North Carolina said no. President Obama, God bless him, said yes. And here we are again with the same-sex marriage debate. It's a subject I know something about, having said "I do" to not one but two same-sex marriages.

It all started with the Washington Post, when I think about it.

In the summer of 1980, I'd graduated from college and went to Washington, D.C., to find a job as a writer. With only an English degree and zero experience, I waltzed into the offices of the Post to inquire about staff writing positions.

"We may have something coming open," the human resources person informed me. "It's in the library. But I'm afraid you're unqualified."

The Post's rejection was the coup de grace that came after about 45 days of fruitless job hunting, a final setback that hurled me toward Greensboro, N.C., to move in with my parents. I'd run out of money and self-esteem.

I still had determination, however. So I set my sights lower, looking for jobs at small-town newspapers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virgina. After months of rejections, I received an offer for an entry-level reporting job at the Daily Herald in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

Reluctantly, I accepted. I packed up my yellow, 1967 Camaro convertible and drove to this small city, with its smelly paper mills and hick farmers and Bible thumpers. Along the way, I had a talk with myself. "Forget about meeting someone," I said. "For the next year, focus on your career, get some experience. Maybe then you can try Washington or New York or another big city."

About one week into my job, I looked up from my computer terminal and saw Nick Parham.

Nick had come to the Herald to socialize with another reporter, Adrienne. He was the director of PR and community affairs for VEPCO, the local utility company. Nick was handsome, tan, and dressed in a Pierre Cardin suit. He did not belong here, I thought as I eavesdropped on his conversation with Adrienne.

Nick was showing Adrienne pictures of his recent vacation in Cancun, Mexico, which included, to my dismay, photos of topless women sunbathing on the beach. Now I was even more intrigued, and I finagled an introduction.

A week later--specifically June 3, 1981--I ran into Nick at the Planters National Bank. It was a Wednesday, and each Wednesday, practically the entire town went to the bank to cash their paychecks. I was thrilled when Nick said he'd read my Sunday column, even quoted it to me, and said he'd heard about my infamous review of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I said something that he thought was funny, and for the first time, I witnessed the famous Nick Parham laugh. His head tilts back quickly and this joyful, unrestrained laugh bursts forth, sometimes accompanied by a few drops of spittle, which landed on my arm that day and caused a tingle I still feel.

Nick invited me to his office after lunch. I went. He invited me to his house for dinner that night. I wore a Polo shirt purchased in the boy's department at Belk's. He grilled steaks on the deck of his lake house. We talked for hours about movies and books and our ambitions, and I still wasn't sure he was gay.

Finally, at 2 a.m., I decided to end the mystery without revealing too much about myself (though I wasn't exactly hiding anything by wearing a boy's Polo shirt). 

"When you go to Raleigh for business, do you go out for fun?," I asked. "You know, to a bar?"

"Yes," Nick said. "The Capital Corral."

Jackpot--the Capital Corral was a big gay bar in Raleigh. We ended the night with a hug, and I returned again to Nick's house that weekend.

I moved to Charleston, S.C., less than a year later, and we continued our relationship long distance. We moved in together in Atlanta in 1984, then made our way to San Francisco in 1987.

In February 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom defied every law on the book and invited same-sex couples to marry, Nick and I said our first vows. Within about a month, all those marriages were annulled. Four years later, for a few months at least, same-sex marriages were legal in California (until Prop 8 passed), and Nick and I took another trip down to City Hall to say "I do."

Jim and Nick, the second time around
We're still married, even though same-sex marriages are currently illegal in California. But for how long? Will the state of California, the U.S. Supreme Court, or some other institution declare our marriage unlawful again? Will some other organization decree that, despite the fact Nick and I have been with each other nearly 31 years, we constitute a threat to the sanctity of marriage?

I used to be philosophical about this. When Nick and I re-married in 2008, a TV reporter asked me what I thought it would take for same-sex marriage to stick. "Time," I said. "It's going to take time."

Now, with the news this week from North Carolina and President Obama, I'd have a different answer for that reporter. "It's going to take a fight," I'd tell her. "And this time, I'm ready."

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  1. Great article Jim. A 31 year committed relationship and marriage (twice!) versus Rush Limbaugh's four failed marriages or Larry Kings eight or however many there were. Hm, which represents traditional values again?

    I was the photographer at my wife's ex-husband's marriage to his husband about the same time you and Nick were getting married. Our friend got ordained just so she could marry them (since no church would - including our own that we all attend together).

    I fail to understand why people are so threatened by same-sex marriage? It doesn't affect them, it has no bearing on their lives, and the fabric of society won't fall apart.

    My step-daughters have three dads and a mom. Big deal. They're straight A students in college, contributing, functioning, well-balanced members of society. That's the effect of being raised by a gay dad, his husband, and my wife and me. I just don't see fraying fabric here.

    It's completely incomprehensible to me that people are so blinded by "what is right" and "what the Bible says" (which it doesn't by the way) that they can't see past that.

    There are a lot of us straights who are fighting for and with you, and I sincerely hope that by Obama "coming out" as it were, MAKES this an issue on the ballots that wakes the country up once and for all.

    1. Tom, I truly appreciate your support and the stories about your own experiences in this area. Thank you! Jim

  2. What a day yesterday was. So discouraging in the morning, and yet hopeful by day's end. I read something last night that I think will be my new mantra: Fight hate every day.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You guys make a lovely couple. I sure hope you got presents for both weddings. ;-)

    1. Thank you JuJu! I really appreciate it. And yes, we did rack up a few wedding gifts! Jim

  3. Ahh, the love story beginning . . . I have been waiting for this blog.

    No, I am not overlooking the serious nature of what you've written, what you've gone through, and what you still have to fight for. I have family and friends, who, too, will be alongside you in the fight. I will be alongside you in the fight.

    It's a shame it has to be a fight, and I'm not sure the change will be in my lifetime. But it's a worth it.

    Lots to like about this blog. :)

  4. Touching story - and one that needs to be told. Commitment is such an enduring value that is a benefit to society as a whole. Also, thank you for stepping up and getting married again. I realize how dismaying it was for so many after the euphoria to have the first marriages annulled. We shall just keep knocking at that door until it opens. When this victory is won, it shall remain our duty to keep looking out to protect the next group of scapegoats identified by the demagoges.

    However, there was that shocking element when you wrote "...yellow, 1967 Camaro convertible ..." *GASP*

    Now you know that I am of a certain age.

    1. Will J, too funny that you gasped at the Camaro. Several people reacted to that disclosure.

      You are SO right -- it is our duty to look out for the next group of scapegoats. Really well said. Thank you for that. -- Jim

  5. Jim,

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. Not only is your story an interesting and heart warming story, it is also so well written. What a pleasure it is to read your posts. I envy your writing talent. You are special and I suspect that Nick got the better end of the deal. :)


    1. Ron, you're so kind and generous. Thank you so much! I always appreciate your support. -- Jim

  6. Jim,

    This is yet another wonderfully written, incredibly touching post. Your description of Nick's laugh nearly made me cry as it is truly evidence of your love for him and one of his charateristics I am certain you cherish. I could not agree with you more, this is a going to a require a fight! Please know that I stand beside you & Nick as well as my friends and family who are being denied civil rights. IT IS WRONG. It may take some time, but I have time and I cannot wait for the day when EVERYONE will be able to marry the person they love FOREVER.


    Lady Grace

    1. Lady Grace, I can always count on you. Thank you for your generous support. People like you make blogging--actually, living--a treat.

  7. Jim,
    Many people from your past are very proud of you. You and Nick have had a fantastic life with more years to come.
    I agree a fight is necessary however if Obama is convinced take action and don't hide behind a new found states rights. If we were only health care!
    I liked the Camaro by the way. You are the best.

    A friend from the past

    1. Dear Anonymous, You certainly have aroused my curiosity. Would love to hear from you; sounds like you know that old Camaro!

  8. Such a great piece! Really enjoyed reading your personal story. I think Obama's "coming out" is definitely a step in the right direction!

  9. I just found your blog...and reading this took me back 30+ years. I grew up in Roanoke Rapids, worked as a teller at Planters National Bank at the corner of 10th and Hamilton Street for a year right out of high school and my best friend, Terry Haskins, worked at the Daily Herald for a while. Then I moved to Atlanta in 1980 and was there until 1988. Headed for SF in October of that year, but ended up in Sacramento instead due to a new job offer. Went to Capital Corral in Raleigh on several occasions, but spent more time at Backstreet, Illusions, The Cove, Bulldogs, The Bar on Peachtree, Weekends, and many others in Atlanta during those years between 1981 and 1988. Such a small world. Thanks for sharing!.

    1. Thank you, Ray. No doubt our paths crossed somewhere along the line! Jim