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First same-sex couples receive marriage licenses in Rowan County

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

Carla Kimrey and Vonda Jenkins were given equal rights Monday.

Less than 72 hours after a federal judge struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, the Rowan County Register of Deeds office issued its first marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Jenkins and Kimrey, who live near Granite Quarry, were one of three couples that received marriage licenses from the register of deeds office as of Monday afternoon.

Kimrey and Jenkins were at the county’s office on East Innes bright and early, just before going to work. Jenkins said it was an exciting, happy occasion, but really just a technicality.

“We’re doing it so we can have the same legal rights, but spiritually and mentally May 15, 2010, was our day,” Jenkins said. “

Jenkins said the process of applying for a license was easy. It was even an emotional experience for the register of deeds employees, she said.

“It was just a very easy process,” she said. “Literally, the clerks at the office had tears in their eyes.”

Assistant Register of Deeds James Furr said his office wasn’t any different Monday than a normal business day. The only significant change, he said, was the marriage application forms and a few technical changes. Marriage forms previously included a small heading next to the first person’s name that read “male applicant” and the second person had a heading listed as “female applicant.” Now, the marriage licenses simply say “applicant one” and “applicant two”

Furr said the North Carolina Department of Vital Records sent his office a PDF of the form via email shorty after the federal judge’s decision.

Avery Matthew Johnson and Billy Joe Hill Jr., who live near High Rock Lake, were the second couple that received a marriage license Monday. Furr declined to provide information for the third couple because the couple requested their information not be disclosed unless a public information request includes specific names.

This evening, Kimrey and Jenkins will recite their legal marriage vows for the first time. The Rev. Robin Tanner, the lead minister at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, will preside over the ceremony. Tanner said she’s already had five couples in Salisbury schedule a wedding ceremony.

Tanner, who was a plaintiff in the case that was ruled on Friday, said legalizing gay marriage was a monumental accomplishment for North Carolina. She spent time at the register of deeds’ offices Monday as couples received their licenses.

“What I saw was a vast majority of people just living their lives,” Tanner said. “It was a wonderful, joyful day. I truly believe that voice that we hear in the public square are truly a vocal minority.”

Tanner’s church has been a part of same-sex commitment ceremonies and, once marriage was legalized in states, has traveled for wedding ceremonies. She is willing to help with weddings in North Carolina now that same-sex marriage is legal.

In response to the court’s ruling and the first same-sex licenses, outgoing Rowan County Register of Deeds Harry Welch provided a written statement that said he would continue treating customers with respect.

“I am very disappointed that one individual appointed by the President can over turn a law voted on by the majority of North Carolina citizens,” Welch said. “As for the people coming into my office today or any other day, I try to live by what Jesus Christ said in Luke 6:37: ‘Judge not, and you shall not be judged.’”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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