Riding a surging wave of publicity, five gay couples in South Carolina applied for marriage licenses Thursday but they were--as expected--denied. The couples, some arm in arm, wearing white-rose boutonnieres, walked into a county courthouse in the heart of the Bible Belt, filled out marriage license applications, and then were told by a judge they would not be accepted.
"You may absolutely fill out the paperwork; we just won't be able to give you a license," said Richland County probate judge Amy McCulloch, who was flanked by two city police officers. "Again, I'm sorry. I respect what you're trying to do, and I respect your desires, but right now the law in South Carolina is, we can't issue a license" to same-sex couples.
Patricia Noble, 56, and Ruth Reedy, 45, walked into the marriage license office several minutes after some media and television cameras filed out, following the other four couples who had advertised their attempts to apply for licenses. The women weren't there to be on television; they were there seeking a marriage license. "It was on the news that you could come here and get a license and get married," said Noble, a registered nurse in Columbia.
Noble said she had heard that legislators introduced bills this week in the South Carolina general assembly that would prohibit the state from recognizing a same-sex marriage performed elsewhere. But she hoped Thursday would lend a different result. "We had planned on getting married anyway--and we will get married anyway," said Noble, who has been with Reedy for 11 years.
The bills introduced in the legislature also would deny insurance benefits to same-sex couples who work for the state or entities of the state such as colleges and universities, counties, and local municipalities. That upsets Noble. "The biggest thing is, we have to pay double insurance," she said. "If we could combine it...it would be less for us to come out-of-pocket with, but we don't have that benefit."
Don Hair, 36, and Blanchard Williams, 30, plan to get married on Valentine's Day despite not having a marriage license. The two men have been together for nine years and have invited friends and ordained clergy to their wedding Saturday. "We're going through the process just like any straight couple would," said Williams, a computer programmer.
After being denied marriage licenses, a group of about 15 gay rights activists walked to the statehouse, passing out wrapped pastries along the way. Most people politely refused the "wedding cake." Renea Eshleman, 53, watched the "wedding stroll" down Columbia's Main Street. The higher-education administrator from Orangeburg said it will be interesting to see how the debate over same-sex marriages falls out, but she's against it. "That's not the way the Lord meant it to be," she said.