During our 15 minutes together, Melinda Robinson, 28, and Ciara Lilly, 27, spend a lot of time gazing into each other's eyes. It's not as sappy or lovesick as that sounds though. After six years together, they've consistently turned to one another for inspiration.
When the two first got together, Robinson admits things were difficult financially. They were both unemployed for a while; at times, the water or heat was turned off in their south Charlotte apartment. They even reached out to the Crisis Assistance Ministry for help.
"One of these times, I remember Ciara and I laying down on the bed and just taking a deep breath about all that was going on," Robinson shares. "She said, 'Would you live with me in a cardboard box?' And I absolutely knew that I would. It was a really good moment for us because now we can look at stressful things we have to do now and look at the cardboard box and remember that we said we'd live with each other in a cardboard box, and that's true even now."
Last year, in front of family and friends, Lilly proposed to Robinson; Robinson, with a look of happiness and surprise, agreed. They've since gotten the go-ahead from North Carolina (the state repealed its law banning gay marriage in October) and set their wedding date (July 26, 2015).
Now comes the actual planning. As a same-sex couple living in the not-so-tolerant South, they searched for resources to help them along the way, but found none. So, they decided to launch their own website, called Wusband and Wife, to document their journey for others.
"If nothing else, we found that this was a great opportunity to tell people that it is possible to get married," Lilly says. "We encountered many people who are in same-sex relationships that do not think that they can have that same kind of wedding experience. So we wanted to say it's possible and here's how we did it and here are some vendors that you can work with that are going to be supportive and are going to make sure that your day is special."
In their wedding, Lilly and Robinson intend to utilize small or LGBT-owned businesses. So far, they've nailed down their DJ and venue. The venue was the most difficult, of course. Their search yielded only one small note of weirdness.
"We were at a venue that was in a different city right outside of Charlotte and I think that coordinator probably just didn't know how to address us," says Robinson. "Instead of saying wedding, she said ceremony and may have referred to Ciara as the bride. And that's acceptable because you don't know the nuances of everyone's relationship. That was the only time we felt like we got demoted because we clearly said wedding, wedding, wedding, and she was like 'When people have their ceremonies ...'"
But mostly, the couple admits, the response has been refreshing.
"I know some people have deeply seated beliefs and things," Robinson says, "but once this was a legal reality, people were like 'whatever.'"