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Together 48 years, N.C. couple fights same-sex marriage ban

'We're still in love, after 48 years. We still can't begin the day without a good cuddle.'
Thursday, August 14, 2014
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This 1978 photo provided by Pearl Berlin, left, and Lennie Gerber shows the couple at Badin Lake, in North Carolina. The couple have a federal lawsuit pending to make gay marriage legal in their home state.Courtesy photo

This 1978 photo provided by Pearl Berlin, left, and Lennie Gerber shows the couple at Badin Lake, in North Carolina. The couple have a federal lawsuit pending to make gay marriage legal in their home state.

“It’s very scary, that something could happen to Pearl and I could be kept from her,” Gerber said. “They might not let me in the emergency room with her. They might not let me help make decisions. … It would be just horrendous if I wasn’t able to be there with her, holding her hand. I would die if I couldn’t do that.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, same-sex marriage proponents around the country won nearly two dozen legal victories. Such marriages are now allowed in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Legal experts predict North Carolina’s first same-sex marriage licenses could be issued within months, depending on the legal process.

But Gerber and Berlin worry they might not have much time. Their lawyers plan to file a brief asking a federal judge in Greensboro to grant immediate recognition to same-sex marriages.

“Marriage is a statement that you make in front of your family, your friends, your community. It has a meaning that tells the world who you are. It’s a very fundamental part of someone’s identity,” Gerber said.

The walls of the home they built in High Point are covered with art and photos from their adventures. They visited all seven continents, even mingling with penguins on an Antarctic ice shelf.

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Berlin is a perfectionist. Gerber admits she’s something of a slob.

They met in 1964, when Gerber visited a friend in Detroit who invited Berlin for brunch. Berlin taught at Wayne State University. Gerber was headed to graduate school at the University of Southern California.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but they had a lot in common. They both taught physical education. They were both “nice Jewish girls from Brooklyn.” They’d never had much interest in boys.

“I had a crush on every female camp counselor I ever had. On every Girl Scout leader. On a couple of my teachers,” Gerber said. “I came home from my first summer where I was at camp for a month, and I wrote, ‘I love Sandy,’ on every page of my diary.”

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