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Register of deeds turns them all down, citing state law

SALISBURY — One by one, the couples walked into the County Register of Deeds office Friday, applied for a marriage license and were turned down.

After gathering across the street from 402 N. Main St. about 10:30 a.m., the group of more than 50 moved to the county property. Three couples entered the office. Their purpose: to ask Rowan County to recognize their same-sex relationships as equal.

Tamara Sheffield and Marja Mee, together for 23 years, and Ashley Wilson and Victoria Moore, together for 13 years, applied for marriage licenses.

Amendment One bans same-sex marriage.

Robert Lambrecht and Jon Planovsky, together for 30 years, successfully recorded their California marriage license at the Register of Deeds office, creating a public record of their marriage that is recognized by the federal government and 16 states, but not North Carolina.

Flocked by family and supporters, the three longtime couples, all Salisbury residents, joined the “We Do” campaign.

The movement has spurred same-sex couples to ask for full equality under the law. Rowan County is the 16th North Carolina county to see such an action.

Sheffield and Mee were the first through the entrance Friday morning.

“We are here to apply for a marriage license,” Sheffield said.

Harry Welch, the county’s register of deeds, quietly greeted the ladies.

“OK. You both have your social security cards, your driver’s licenses, $60 in cash?” Welch said.

After a few moments of processing, Welch leaned close to the couple and spoke in a low voice, “I’m sorry. State law is not going to allow me to grant this. I appreciate you coming in.”

But the women didn’t have any intention of leaving without imparting their story and hope for the future on Welch. They thanked him for talking with them and asked to explain their situation.

“We’ve been together for 23 years. We’ve been hugely active in the 20 years that we’ve lived here in Rowan County and Salisbury, the community. We absolutely love this city, this county, this state,” Sheffield said. “All we’re trying to do today is, we don’t think as couples who pay taxes and have become well-adjusted adults — as we’ve managed to grow up here in Rowan County now — just that we get an opportunity to afford the same rights and things like that as every other couple here and hopefully you’ll see why we’re doing this.”

Each couple after them followed suit, giving details of their lives and, in some cases, their children. Welch responded with the same demeanor to each.

“I do, and like I said, I’m governed by the law of the state of North Carolina,” Welch told Sheffield. “I just want to say I wish all of you the best. I just cannot do this legally.”

Ashley Wilson and Victoria Moore were up next, but their plight ended similarly.

The couple have five children, they told Welch, and would like for their children’s parents to be married.

“I think it would be very important for them to know that their parents who love them very much and support them in every way would have the same rights as any parents would have,” Moore said.

Outside the building, the trio of couples were greeted by smiles and song.

No protesters appeared, but a Salisbury Police officer kept watch nearby.

After applying, Moore said it’s important to put a face to the movement and let residents know local people are affected.

“I was nervous today. It wasn’t a surprise,” Moore said. “But you have to start somewhere, and you have to tell your stories and let people know that we’re out here and their families are basically just like our family.”

Lambrecht and Planovsky had an early anniversary present, recording their marriage in the county’s records one day shy of their 30th anniversary. They were legally married in California in 2008.

“We hope that North Carolina will soon follow, but it was very important for us and for others to show that we’re just like everybody else,” Planovsky said. “We’re a married couple. We pay taxes. We own a business. We share everything, and we’re no different than anybody else.”

But the movement goes further, Lambrecht said, than the six people who entered the Register of Deeds Office on Friday.

“Unfortunately nowadays, we hear all the time about young people committing suicide because — whether it be they’re bullied for being gay or bullied for whatever — if they can see that two people can be of the same sex and be married for 30 years, and own a home, own a business, be just like mom and dad, and show that there is hope, ya know, and ending your life is not the way to do it,” Lambrecht said. “They will have a future also.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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