Rowan issues few same-sex marriage licenses in first week

Published 4:21 pm Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rowan County hasn’t issued many same-sex marriage licenses, but recipients of the few that have been issued continuously say the reasoning for the law change is basic rights.

Since a federal judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, Rowan County’s Register of Deeds has issued seven same-sex marriage licenses. By comparison, Cabarrus County issued six same-sex marriage licenses on the first day it became legal.

The Rev. Robin Tanner, the lead minister at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, said she has seen a range of emotions when visiting register of deeds offices.

“I’ve seen excitement, lots of joy and I’ve seen relief from couples that have been stuck in legal limbo for years,” Tanner said.

In her experience at multiple register of deeds offices, Tanner said employees treat same-sex applicants like any other couple that might apply for a license.

“When I went to the Mecklenberg County Register of Deeds all of the individuals acted with the utmost degree of professionalism,” Tanner said.

Matt Johnson and Billy Hill Jr. were the first same-sex couple in Rowan County to receive a license, but said it is simply a piece of paper that allows equal rights.

“As long as you know that you’re committed to that one person for the rest of your life and you want to be with that one person for the rest of your life, then you don’t need a piece of paper stating you are together,” Johnson said. “It just helps to know that with that piece of paper you aren’t treated like a second-class citizen.”

Johnson said an example of a right received with a legal marriage is being listed on a partner’s insurance policy.

Johnson and Hill both said that the Rowan County Register of Deeds treated them with dignity and respect throughout the application process.

“We were shocked that they were as accepting of us as they were and that they were so happy for us,” Hill said.

The pair also said they were shocked more people didn’t receive marriage licenses on the first day.

After visiting the register of deeds office, Hill and Johnson traveled to Cabarrus County to formally get married and recite vows. It was a nonchalant ceremony for the couple as they wore casual clothes.

Though, Tanner said some of the couples she married this week have dressed to impress.

“The ceremonies have been as unique as the couples are,” Tanner said. “Some couples were dressed to the nines, in their Sunday best. Others came just after work in whatever they had on. It was a range, just like heterosexual couples.”

With same-sex marriage now legal, businesses could see a slight bump in profit, but, in Salisbury, the same-sex marriage ruling has yet to translate into a boom for the wedding industry.

Jeremy Gardner, with The Heritage Room on East Council Street, said they put a message on their Facebook page welcoming same-sex couples looking for a wedding venue. Two men from Greensboro contacted them and plan to use the site for their wedding in January.

Gardner said the men were looking for a spot in between Greensboro and Charlotte, where they have family.

He said The Heritage Room is “open to everybody,” and that he hopes to have more business now that same-sex marriage is legal in North Carolina.

Bellissima, a bridal-gown boutique on West Innes Street, has done business with same-sex couples before, according to Keely Hudson. She said the shop has not received any inquiries from same-sex couples since the ruling. But, she said, the business is open to everyone.

Kaye Hirst, executive director of the Rowan Museum on North Main Street, said same-sex couples are welcome to use the museum’s reception room.

“We’d loved to host them; no problem with it,” she said.

Johnson said he and Hill chose to get married right after visiting the register of deeds office because of a fear that politicians might attempt to change the law. Though, Tanner said talk about making same-sex marriage illegal again is just political posturing.

“I have seen couples that are certainly worried about this right being taken away,” Tanner said. “With the court’s ruling, I believe it’s highly unlikely that, once they have been made legal, (marriage) would be unrecognized.”