GRAHAM — Cinde Shoe and Gina Rhew waited 32 years to have their union officially recognized in North Carolina.
That recognition came just after 3 p.m. Monday, when they participated in Alamance County’s first legal same-sex ceremony at the magistrate’s office in Graham.
“We were nervous all day. We both had to work before we could come here,” Rhew said, moments after they exchanged vows. “We were surprised when they said we were the first in Alamance County.”
They were one of two same-sex couples who received marriage licenses Monday at the Alamance County Register of Deeds Office.
Though 32 years is a long time to wait, marriage equality came sooner to North Carolina than Shoe and Rhew expected.
After voters passed Amendment One in 2012 — altering the state’s constitution to make opposite-sex marriage the only legally recognized union — they anticipated years of legal battles and court decisions before same-sex marriages were recognized here.
That wait was cut short Friday when a federal judge in Asheville ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional. It followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week not to hear cases involving gay-marriage bans in several states. One of those cases challenged a decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. North Carolina is also in the Fourth Circuit’s district.
“We knew once they passed it we would get married; we just weren’t sure when. We just decided to go ahead and do it,” Shoe said.
Rhew listed some of the entitlements and benefits they will share with straight couples, including simplification of and access to Social Security benefits, tax filings, 401(k)s and other financial matters.
“It’s a weight lifted off me,” Shoe said. “We feel a little more secure.”
Shoe’s parents were witnesses in the ceremony. They also had friends present Monday — two of whom were married in Guilford County late Friday night, when that county’s register of deeds office stayed open to issue marriage licenses after the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr.
ALamance County Register of Deeds Hugh Webster said two same-sex couples sought marriage licenses at his office Monday. Rhew and Shoe were the first. A male couple applied for their license just before 5 p.m.
He was surprised there weren’t more because there had been a number of phone calls about the issue throughout the day. He thought some of those couples may have chosen to file their licenses in Guilford or Orange counties. North Carolina marriage licenses can be applied for in any county, regardless of which county applicants live in, and are valid throughout the state.
Webster said “about half” of his employees stated they are uncomfortable filling out and accepting marriage licenses for same-sex couples, one of the official duties of employees at deeds offices throughout the state. Webster said he will step in and fill out marriage licenses instead of those employees, though he disagrees with same-sex marriage.
“I’ve told my staff, ‘I’m not going to ask anyone to do something that runs against your raising,’” Webster said Monday. “It goes against my raising, too, but I’ll do it.”
Webster sat with both couples Monday as they had their licenses completed by staff at the office. Rhew and Shoe said he was polite and friendly.