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Same-sex marriage five years later

GREENSBORO — Frank Brooks and Brad Newton have lost three parents between them and gotten through a cancer scare in the last five years — as husband and husband.

“It’s nice to know there’s that legal safety net,” said Newton, a marketing consultant, of being legally married to Brooks, a real estate agent, who he met at a mutual friend’s birthday party 18 years earlier. “I love him as much as I ever did.”

Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of Brooks and Newton saying “I do” at the Guilford County Register of Deeds office on Oct. 10, 2014 — just hours after a judge’s order struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

The government office that processes marriage certificates had closed for the day, but was among a handful across the state that reopened for business after the ruling.

Since then, about 980 same-sex couples have filed for marriage licenses in Guilford County.

“I love when I hear, “How is your wife doing?” said Greensboro police officer Latoya Anderson, who married her longtime love, Ashley Benton, a few months after the ruling. “Years ago, most people were only comfortable acknowledging Ashley as ‘my friend,’ and I believe that speaks volumes on how far we have come as a society.”

Benton wore a long, white gown and carried a bouquet as they exchanged vows before a judge.

Anderson was in her uniform.

“They thought we were strange for wanting the same respect, the same rules as heterosexual couples when we were and are living the same lives,” said Benton, the founder of a Greensboro nonprofit.

Jeff Thigpen, like other registrars across the state, had been waiting the whole week for a judge’s ruling one way or another.

At least two cases were making their way before federal judges in North Carolina.

All eyes were on the Greensboro Middle District Court across the street from the Register of Deeds office, where Chief U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Jr. was hearing arguments against eliminating the state ban on same-sex marriage.

“I remember someone asking me that week about same-sex marriage and I said for the last couple of years it’s been down the road,” Thigpen recalled Monday. “But on Friday, it was at our door.”

By 9:30 a.m., Thigpen was on a flurry of calls with his counterparts across the state. Of chief concern: legal paperwork that would replace “Bride” and “Groom” with “Applicant One” and “Applicant Two.”

Clergy were waiting to perform free weddings.

Same-sex couples anxiously awaited news of the decision.

Thigpen knew that some of his staff, based on their religious convictions, were having trouble with the idea of processing the paperwork necessary so two people of the same sex could wed.

Several couples decided to go ahead and fill out forms, which would be processed if the judge overturned the ban.

As it neared 5 p.m., Brooks and Newton were among those showing frustration.

“I just want it to be over with,” Newton said at the time.

Word spread that Osteen had denied a request for oral arguments from GOP leaders Thom Tillis and Phil Berger of Eden — but was giving the legislature until Monday to file written arguments against eliminating the ban.

Thigpen spoke to the large, disappointed crowd outside his office. He locked up and everyone went their separate ways.

But they would soon be back.

Soon after, news spread that another federal judge in the state had struck down Amendment One — the state’s ban on same-sex marriages — as the business day was ending.

Thigpen had been in the McDonald’s drive-thru picking up dinner for his son when he got a flurry of texts and calls.

“I felt an overwhelming need to do something,” Thigpen said later.

All eyes had been on Osteen, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, to make the momentous decision.

But it was a President Barack Obama appointee, Max O. Cogburn Jr. from Asheville, that did it.

“The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue,” Cogburn wrote in his opinion. “It is a legal issue and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, refusing to recognize same-sex marriages originating elsewhere and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”

Couples returned to the Register of Deeds office, running around the parking lot yelling, “Yes!”

Thigpen pulled up in his car.

A media throng had began to gather as well.

“Do you want to do interviews or get married?” Thigpen asked the same-sex couples.

Eight employees followed him to begin processing forms.

“Jeff’s actions that night are a testament to his integrity, his deep sense of service to all in this county and his compassionate heart,” reflected the Rev. Julie Peeples, who performed weddings that night.

Couples filed inside with flowers and balloons. Some brought children.

At 6:52 p.m., Brooks and Newton, wearing peach corsages and ponchos because of the rain outside, became the first same-sex couple to be wed in Guilford County.

Around them, other couples were in various stages of filling out marriage paperwork.

“It’s the first for me. It’s the second for him,” an elderly man told a clerk typing the information into a computer. The second man had been divorced after a heterosexual marriage.

As clergy married people on the spot, a self-described street preacher walked in off the street, pleading: “Please don’t do this! This is against God’s word!”

Everything got quiet.

“These are people who have been hurt already,” Peeples softly said to him.

She asked if they could pray together.

The man left, and people cheered as he exited.

Earlier that day, 23 heterosexual couples had applied for licenses over an eight-hour period. By night’s end, 24 same-sex couples had done the same.

Thigpen is glad to have played a part in the history-making event.

“When I look back on it, I see the chaos and uncertainty in the context of being incredibly grateful to be in the position to serve people,” he said. “When you are with people who have suffered, who have been — in some cases, victims of violence, who have been castigated and demonized — and they are able to finally enjoy the privileges, the benefits, the rights of being an American, you cannot do anything other than be in awe.”

Like Brooks and Newton, many had been together for years and already considered themselves married even if the laws in many states didn’t.

Brooks and Newton understood each other’s moods and strengths. Had long ago pledged to never go to bed angry. Talked about things big and small.

They married a second time months later in their backyard, in front of about 200 friends and family. A taco food truck was in the driveway.

A family friend walked them down the aisle dressed as Wonder Woman.

Instead of gifts they asked for donations to the Triad Golden Retriever Rescue, which finds homes for dogs.

“We are regular people,” Brooks said. “We’re here. We have dogs. We have a house. We have jobs. We are just regular people.”

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Law targeted Guilford government; county gets stuck with the bill for legal fees. Will state help?

Guilford County’s legislative delegation is all over the map on whether local taxpayers should be reimbursed after getting left holding the bag for an unconstitutional state law that sought to revamp the structure of Greensboro’s municipal government.

The answers from state senators and representatives who represent parts of Guilford range from “sure thing” to maybe and “not on your life.”

At issue is a negotiated settlement of $425,000 in legal fees that the Guilford Board of Commissioners reluctantly opted to pay last week to the winning side in a lawsuit against the measure imposed by Raleigh in July 2015.

County government had nothing to do with the law other than being expected to enforce it (which it never did).

Outraged commissioners said last week they plan to send the delegation a letter seeking recompense after they agreed to pay the negotiated amount for fear of getting soaked even worse if they refused.

“I’d like to help the county if possible,” state Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Whitsett, said of Guilford’s pending request. “We will have to discuss the policy, history and precedence of helping to cover these kinds of costs.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Michael Garrett and Rep. Pricey Harrison, both Greensboro Democrats, are in the “heck yes” camp.

Harrison said the county “certainly shouldn’t get stuck with this bill,” noting that since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, state government has spent $22.8 million defending laws that legislators enacted.

“It’s wrong for the county to be saddled with the massive defense costs of a law almost nobody wanted and was ultimately found to be unconstitutional,” Garrett agreed.

But then there’s state Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-High Point, whose position is “no way.”

“I do not think the state should have to pay the money for this lawsuit,” Brockman said. “If the commissioners want to reclaim the money from those responsible, they should turn to the North Carolina or Guilford County Republican Party whose representative started the redistricting ordeal.”

Brockman’s Republican counterpart from High Point, Rep. John Faircloth said Tuesday that he had not reached a decision because the county has yet to make a formal request and he wants more information.

Hardister said he already has discussed the forthcoming Guilford request with some who lead the General Assembly appropriations committees.

“We are going to look into it,” Hardister said.

The impasse resulted from a 2015 effort led by former Republican state Sen. Trudy Wade to fundamentally change the dynamics of the Greensboro body on which she once served as a councilwoman.

Shortly after the law was passed, the city of Greensboro and a number of residents filed lawsuits opposing the measure that redistributed the city’s 186,000 voters into eight new districts, scrapped three at-large seats, slapped new limits on the mayor’s authority and jettisoned October primaries.

In April 2017, U.S. Middle District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that the General Assembly had unconstitutionally redistricted the council and that all future elections would be held under the city’s previous governing format — unless a public referendum were held to change it.

After Eagles’ decision, the city waived its legal fees. But the nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice that represented the lawsuit’s other plaintiffs sought attorney’s fees that climbed to about $710,000 after the group successfully appealed an initial court order denying its request to bill the county elections office.

The group agreed to $425,000 in subsequent negotiations, officials said.

Hardister said the process moving ahead now in Raleigh requires leaders of the appropriation committees to discuss the county’s request in detail.

“If there is agreement, then it likely would be placed in a technical corrections bill that makes changes to the state budget,” Hardister said of the road ahead.

The county’s formal written request has not been sent yet and is “still in progress,” said Robin Keller, clerk to the Guilford commissioners.

“I am hopeful to have it out by the end of the week,” she said Tuesday.

Back in 2015, six current members of the county’s 10-person legislative delegation cast votes on final passage of the bill entitled “Municipal Elections/Trinity and Greensboro.”

Faircloth voted in favor on the House floor. And in the other chamber, “yes” votes came from Republican state Sens. Rick Gunn, who now represents parts of eastern Guilford and Alamance counties, and Jerry Tillman, who represents parts of southern Guilford and Randolph counties.

Current Guilford legislators voting against the measure four years ago in their respective chambers were state Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Greensboro, and Hardister and Harrison.

Quick actions help Caviness family prevent tragedy

GREENSBORO He was named for his uncle, a beloved Greensboro Fire Department captain who lived to serve others and who died way too young.

And this week, 18-year-old Will Caviness helped his family reclaim a bit of autumn for themselves, snatching a small piece of the season back from the lingering sorrow that always accompanies these days of early October.

Will Caviness helped save a stranger’s life.

He says he didn’t do much. He says he just reacted. He says he was just in the right place at the right time.

Maybe so. But four days before the eighth anniversary of his Uncle Will’s death, he played a part in sparing another family from the anguish of losing a loved one.

“It was a total stranger. I still don’t know his name,” he says. “I just heard he has a grandson who was playing at the baseball field that day. And I’m glad he’ll be able to watch another one of his games someday.”

On the sidelines

Will Caviness plays football for Averett University, an NCAA Division III school in Danville, Va.

He’s a freshman at Averett, taking six classes worth 17 credit hours in his first semester away from home. He majors in equine science and dreams of going to veterinary school someday.

He’s also the Cougars’ backup punter and kicker in football and a second baseman for the baseball team.

Football brought him home Saturday afternoon, when Averett played Greensboro College in a USA South Conference game at Jamieson Stadium on the campus of Will Caviness’ high school alma mater, Grimsley.

He was on the sidelines, kicking into a practice net with the Cougars’ specialists, when a commotion caught his eye. Beyond the stadium’s fence, on the ground between Grimsley’s football and baseball fields, a circle of people were frantically waving their arms.

“Someone was in distress,” Will Caviness says. “I was near our athletic trainers. I got their attention, and they went up there to check, and … I could overhear them talking about getting paramedics.”

Will Caviness’ mind worked quickly, connecting the dots, and he turned to face the visitors’ bleachers.

‘Get Dad’

Will’s parents, Sean and Kathy Caviness, passed up a vacation trip to Jamaica to stay in Greensboro near family this week and catch their son’s football game.

“I knew my mom would be watching me,” Will says, “so I signaled to her. I knew she wouldn’t be able to hear me, so we made eye contact. I put my hands together, interlocking them the way you do CPR compressions. Then I pointed in the direction of the commotion. And she knew immediately what was going on and to get my dad to help out. … I’m just glad we were in the right place at the right time.”

Like his brother before him, Sean Caviness joined the Greensboro Fire Department in 1996. He was off duty from Station 41 on Saturday.

“I was kind of the middle of the stands, talking to some people, one section over from where my wife was sitting,” Sean says. “Will noticed a guy in distress who had fallen down. He saw people were up there calling for help. So he got Kathy’s attention, and did some CPR compression (gestures), and he mouthed the words, ‘Get dad, get dad.’ She got my attention, and I went over there.”

Grimsley’s nearby baseball field was one of the host sites for a youth tournament Saturday, the Perfect Game 14U Greensboro Grasshoppers Championship. While teams from Springfield, Va., and New Bern played, an elderly man watching the game collapsed.

No pulse

Sean Caviness arrived quickly.

“There was one other lady who got there the same time I did,” Sean says. “The guy was on the ground by the fence at the top of the stadium. He had what we call ‘agonal breathing.’ He was taking maybe four breaths per minute. He was turning blue. I could not feel any carotid pulse on him.

“That lady got down there with me — I never did get her name, but she knew what she was doing — and she asked me, ‘Do you want me to do compressions or breathe for him?’ I said, ‘You breathe, and I’ll do compressions.’ She gave a couple breaths and I got his shirt open and started doing compressions. After a few compressions he gave sort of a grunt and woke up.”

It wasn’t over yet.

“He was talking to us when EMS got up to us, and then he went out again,” Sean says. “So I started doing compressions again while they were getting things set up for the airways and to give him O2(oxygen) and all. Then he was back and talking to us again. He asked, ‘Did I pass out?’ He didn’t have a clue what was happening. By that time, there were four or five paramedics there and (fire department) Station 5. They took over. He was talking and answering questions when they were loading him onto the ambulance. That’s the last I saw of him.”

From start to finish, the whole incident was over in “maybe 10 to 12 minutes,” Sean Caviness said.

He never did learn the man’s name, only that he was there to watch a grandson play baseball.

“We were where we needed to be at that time. You know?” Sean says. “From Will, to Kathy, to me. Everything lined up and fell into place.”


The football game went on while the drama played out nearby. Will Caviness never did get on the field, but his Cougars shut out the Pride 48-0.

Averett coach Cleive Adams knew “something serious” had happened near the stands, but he didn’t know what.

“I found out right after the game, when my special teams coach, Al Smith, came up and told me about Will Caviness and his involvement with the situation,” Adams says. “… I talked to Will and said, ‘Man, that was pretty heads-up.’ And he just told me it was the first thing he thought of because his dad’s a firefighter and first responder. I thought that was pretty cool.”

Adams drives home a mantra to his players, Will Caviness says. They use the social media hashtag #BAM. It stands for “Be A Man.” On the field. Off the field.

“I wasn’t surprised, especially when I found out who it was,” Adams says. “Will is just the type of young man who’s very aware and conscious of others. I guess growing up in a household with a first responder, it was an instinct to him to make that gesture and prompt his parents to get involved. He understood the magnitude of the situation and had a resource to help.”

That night, Kathy Caviness shared her family’s story on Facebook. She was struck by the timing of the day’s events.

Her brother-in-law, Will, was 35 years old when he collapsed 500 yards from the Chicago Marathon finish line and died on Oct. 9, 2011.

Her son, Will, was 18 years old when his perception and instincts helped save a stranger’s life on Oct. 5, 2019.

“Tonight, I can’t help but realize that I have so many things to be grateful for,” Kathy Caviness wrote. “There was a reason Sean took that trip to Chicago 8 years ago almost to the day for his brother. And there’s a reason we weren’t on our trip to Jamaica today. We are EXACTLY where we’re meant to be.”