In less than an hour, Tom White and Billy Rucker did something Monday morning they had never been able to do in the 23 years they’ve been together in North Carolina: They got a marriage license.
They were among four same-sex couples given licenses when the Forsyth County Register of Deeds office opened at 8 a.m.
The couple had contemplated getting married in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal.
Then late Friday, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. issued his ruling, striking down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. His ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear any appeal of a July ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that struck down Virginia’s ban. The court has jurisdiction over North Carolina.
Cogburn’s federal judicial district covers only the western third of the state, but N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said through a spokeswoman that the federal ruling applies statewide.
White and Rucker plan to get married this afternoon at their 80-year-old neighbor’s, who insisted on wedding cake, whether the couple wanted it or not. Rucker said that on Friday, he was upstairs and White was downstairs watching television when they learned of Cogburn’s ruling.
“I was elated,” White said.
Keith Hicks and Wayne Berrier arrived about a half-hour before the doors opened. Hicks kept looking at the clock inside the Forsyth County Government Center, where the Register of Deeds office is located. At two minutes before 8, he said, jokingly, that the clock must be stuck.
Hicks and Berrier have been together 25 years.
“It’s been a dream up until now,” Hicks said.
Berrier added, “I never thought I would see this day in North Carolina.”
Hicks and Berrier and another couple, Marcel Spencer and Lorraine Howard, will get married at the Pride Winston-Salem’s No Place Like Home festival on Saturday.
Mary-Ann Ellis and Robin Idol decided not to wait. They were the first same-sex couple legally married in Forsyth County. The Rev. Lisa Schwartz of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the Rev. Ron LaRocque of Metropolitan Community Church of Winston-Salem performed the ceremony. Ellis and Idol, surrounded by their mothers and their daughter and other supporters, held each other tight as they recited their vows.
“This is a day of liberation,” LaRocque told the couple. “This is a day of freedom. This is a day that love has won out and you are a symbol of that love. You are pioneers of the greatest civil rights movement of our day.”