Adding ‘legitimacy’: Local couple talks Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Leigh Saunders-Corbin, right, and her partner Cheryl, who married last year in New Hanover County, said Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling further strengthens their union in the eyes of the law. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Leigh Saunders-Corbin, right, and her partner Cheryl, who married last year in New Hanover County, said Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling further strengthens their union in the eyes of the law. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Wilmington residents Leigh and Cheryl Saunders-Corbin believe they know who they are in the eyes of their God.

Now–with Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide–they know who they are under the eyes of the law.

“We know what we think God believes. We know where we stand with Him,” Leigh Saunders-Corbin said Friday afternoon. “Now, we feel even more protected. Not only is this our God-given right, but the country we live in and pay taxes in and raise a flag for and celebrate Fourth of July with says it’s our right, too.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-4 ruling, with each of the four conservative justices penning their own dissent in the decision.

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation,” Kennedy wrote.

He went on to write that despite arguments that gay couples “disrespect” the sanctity of marriage, they in fact “respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The Saunders-Corbins would certainly agree.

The couple, who met in 2006, were married in a civil service on Wrightsville Beach two years later. But since it was not recognized by law, they had to deal with roadblocks–like paying higher costs for Saunders to be under Corbin’s health insurance–and jarring concerns, such as the transfer of property in the event of death.

With the legalization of gay marriage in North Carolina last year, they were able to marry in October, finally finding the validation they had so long waited to receive. Port City Daily was able to follow the couple through the process of filing for a marriage license and going before a New Hanover County magistrate to say their “I dos.”

A marriage recognized by the state, Leigh Saunders-Corbin said, has already taken care of such hurdles to an otherwise happy life together.

“There used to be so much legalese to go through with everything,” she said, noting something as simple as paying a phone bill in her partner’s name used to bring up an awkward conversation–or a refusal of payment.

Having the federal government stand behind their union, she added, only strengthens the state mandate.

“It adds legitimacy to something that was already legitimate,” she noted.

For Cheryl Saunders-Corbin, it adds peace of mind.

“There are certain things I think should not be state to state, that states should have control over. We are all Americans and there are certain things we should all support…I’ve always been worried that the state is going to come back and say gay marriage has been overthrown and then we’d be back to where we were before,” she said. “So even though, yes, we are married in the State of North Carolina, I feel safer knowing my wife and myself, we have rights that protect us…It allows me to be free and be me and hold Leigh’s hand in church.”

And Leigh Saunders-Corbin says she thinks this ruling will make a difference for younger generations and leave a legacy for those that follow.

For her, growing up in the small southern town of High Point, North Carolina, was difficult. She had to seek out bigger cities as a young adult to find an embracing atmosphere in which she could feel at home with herself. She’s hopeful gay teens and adults struggling to find acceptance and identity will find strength in Friday’s decision.

“It’s pretty empowering to know you are protected…It’s a whole different world of not having to negotiate,” she said.

And the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, she said, could lead to a change in social views on homosexuality, making the topic more approachable and therefore leading to tolerance.

“This is making it part of the conversation. It’s about saying, ‘Hey, let’s educate people on this.’ Because people are afraid of what they don’t know,” she said. “You can’t change people’s hearts today but you can at least insist that everyone has the same rights. Then, it’s up to society.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or