N.C. couple sues for same-sex marriage
March 24 2004 12:00 AM ET
A gay couple filed a lawsuit in Durham County, N.C., on Monday after being denied a marriage license. Richard Mullinax, 36, and Perry Pike, 41, walked into the Durham County register of deeds office on Monday and asked for a marriage license. They completed an application and were denied the license. The couple of five years then walked across the street to the courthouse and sued the county.
The couple's lawsuit contends that the county has to issue the marriage license, even though it would have only symbolic meaning. State law invalidates any claim of marriage between people of the same sex. "Having an invalid license, to us, is a part of the process of having a public dialogue," Mullinax said.
Registrar Willie Covington said the law gave him no choice. He declined to express an opinion about same-sex marriage. "This isn't about me. It's about the law," he said. "Unlike some other states, the law is very clear in North Carolina, and I really don't see any loopholes. If I issued them a license, I could go to jail."
Registrars of deeds in North Carolina must confirm that the people in a couple are at least 18, although they may be younger if certain conditions are met. They must ask whether the couple are related by a degree closer than first cousins and whether either partner is currently married. If those qualifications are met, the law requires the county to issue a license, said Cheri Patrick, a Durham lawyer who filed the lawsuit for Mullinax and Pike. "If it's the most I can get, I'll take it,' is the point my clients have," Patrick said.
Mullinax and Pike own a home together in Durham. Mullinax builds stone walls for a living; Pike works for the city of Durham. Mullinax is the president of their neighborhood association and recently set up a sculpture of two women in wedding gowns in a city park. He is the son of an ordained Southern Baptist minister. His father, Richard Mullinax Sr., drove from his home in South Carolina at 5:30 a.m. Monday to be in Durham with his son when he filed for the marriage license.
Mullinax Sr. said he couldn't speak for the Southern Baptist denomination but that when Jesus sent Peter to minister to people, "He didn't say to Peter, if they are homosexuals, you don't have to minister to them--leave them alone."
The couple have had legal documents drawn up that establish power of attorney, inheritance, and other benefits that the law grants married couples. They were content with that before President Bush announced his support last month for a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
County attorney Chuck Kitchen said he would file a motion to dismiss the suit by the end of the week, contending that the case belongs in superior, not district, court. "I really think statewide issues such as this should be filed directly against the state, with Attorney General Roy Cooper as the plaintiff, as opposed to my registrar of deeds," he said.