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Gay marriage debate not simple

The Gellar-Goads and Ennises have a lot in common when it comes to marriage. It's their disagreements that are part of a heated state and national debate.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Gellar-Goads were neighbors at North Carolina State University when they met in 2003. The two hit it off, started dating, and as their relationship got serious, they began talking about tying the knot.

In 2007, the two were engaged over tiramisu at their favorite restaurant – they never finished dessert, they were so happy. In March, they married.

The Ennises met in 1961 at a restaurant, where they got to talking. They started dating – their first date was a softball game – and their romance eventually developed into something more serious.

In April 1962, they married; and now, 47 years, two children and three grandchildren later, the two know each other so well that they complete each other's sentences.

The two couples say they share many of the same ideas about marriage – monogamy, commitment, compromise and a dedication to one another.

But there is a dividing line between their individual views about what marriage is.

Jake and Ted Gellar-Goad are gay; Rev. Charles Ennis and his wife, Barbara, oppose same-sex marriage, saying it is solely between a man and a woman.

"I think that's biblical," said Charles Ennis, who is the pastor and founder of Fellowship Baptist Church in Clayton. He says he bases his conviction – not preference – on more than 50 years of studying Scripture.

For Ted Gellar-Goad, a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, marriage is, in part, a rite of passage.

"The reason I wanted to get married was the same reason that anyone, I think – whether it's to a man or to a woman," he said. "I love Jake so much that I want him to be a part of my life forever (and have it as) a recognized and accepted and valued part of our lives."

The two couples' views are representative of the larger local and national debates over marriage and who should be able to wed legally.

For example, this week the California Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved ban on gay marriage but kept intact an estimated 18,000 same-sex marriage licenses from last summer, when gay weddings were legal.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts – where the Gellar-Goads married earlier this year. Beginning in September, it will also be legal in Vermont and Maine.

Thirty states have added amendments to their state constitutions banning gay marriage. North Carolina is the only southern state that has not done so.

The Ennises support proposed legislation for a state constitutional amendment that would clarify a valid marriage as one only between a man and woman.

Introduced this year into the General Assembly, Senate Bill 272, "The Defense of Marriage Act," and a similar House bill – failed to make it through legislative committees.

Proponents of the bill – including NC4Marriage, a bipartisan coalition of voters, lawmakers and clergy, have – argued that it will protect marriage and protect children from being taught in schools that homosexuality is normal and that a same-sex union is the moral and legal equivalent to marriage.

"We are fighting for that," Charles Ennis said. "We believe (marriage) is a biblical principle. Now, there are others who deny that. But convictions are convictions. It comes not from a preference but because of biblical studies."

Preferences, he says "will change like the wind," but his unshakable faith remains the same, despite culture. "People die for their convictions," he said.

"You have to fight for what you believe in, and we fight for what we believe in," Charles Ennis said. "We must stand upon our principles, just like they feel they must stand upon theirs."

The issue goes beyond religion for the Gellar-Goads, who say they are pro-marriage, value it as an institution and want to be part of it.

"In states, (like Massachusetts,) where there is marriage equality, the debate just evaporates," Ted Gellar-Goad said. "There is no more: 'It's going to destroy marriage as we know it.' It doesn't happen. Society is just as strong as it was previously, but stronger because now it's more inclusive."

Marriage, they say, also has to do with civic rights.

"The word marriage is written into our laws for as long as the U.S. has existed," said Jake Gellar-Goad, 25, a worker at a veterinary clinic.

He says there are more than 1,000 rights that are detailed for married couples – including those dealing with insurance, taxes, medical issues, children and property – that committed same-sex couples are not entitled to, even in civil unions.

"It bothers me, but I think North Carolina is working its way in the right direction," he added. "We've had a gay mayor in Carrboro. We've had other elected gay officials. I think (that) making progress in areas like that shows that North Carolina is moving in the right direction."

Still, he does not think the law in North Carolina will change anytime soon, and the Ennises don't believe their stance will either.

"They may have their own lives, but we have ours, and sometimes, there has to be a dividing line because of convictions," Charles Ennis said.

North Carolinians also appear to be split on the issue.

An Elon University poll in March found that 50.4 percent of respondents opposed a voter-approved amendment protecting marriage while more than 43 percent supported it.

While respondents opposed the amendment, only 21 percent of said they support full marriage rights for same-sex couples. About 28 percent said they would support civil unions or partnerships but not marriage. About 44 percent of respondents said they oppose any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Terry Cantrell, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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