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Charlotte gay couples apply for and are denied marriage licenses Wednesday

Three Charlotte-area couples applied for marriage licenses at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Wednesday, knowing there was almost no chance the legal paperwork would be issued.

Each same-sex couple – Scott Bishop and Ron Sperry; Rev. Robin Tanner and Rev. Ann Marie Alderman and Joey Howell and Scott Lindsley – went into the local office separately to apply. After checking each couples’ identification, the answer that clerk Robin Maddox gave was the same: “Unfortunately, North Carolina does not allow us to issue to same-sex (couples) … I do apologize, that is the law.”

It was just the latest public effort by the gay-rights group Campaign for Southern Equality to call attention to marriage equality in North Carolina and across the South.

The couples’ applications were partially in response to the Amendment One vote – which banned same-sex marriage in North Carolina in May 2012.

The organization launched the “We Do” campaign in 2011, and has provided support to more than 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples in seven states who applied for marriage licenses, said Aaron Sarver, spokesman for Campaign for Southern Equality. “All the couples that have applied to date have been denied,” he said.

As the initiative stops in counties across the South, police and the register of deeds are notified ahead of time. “We’re not trying to surprise or shock anybody,” Sarver said. He added that couples still apply in hopes that someone will issue the license as an act of conscience.

This isn’t the first time same-sex couples in Mecklenburg County have applied for licenses as part of the “We Do” movement. In May 2012, couple Alice Phelan and Sally Young and couple Laurel and Amy Rose were also denied.

But this is the first stop “We Do” has made in Charlotte since the Defense of Marriage Act – which prevented same-sex couples from receiving a number of federal benefits – was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, Sarver said.

David Hains, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, said legal decisions can’t change facts.

“Even if the couples had succeeded in obtaining a license, it would not affect the unchangeable biological fact that people of the same gender cannot create life. Marriage is about the love of two people and the creation of new life,” he said.

“As a society we tend to delude ourselves that judges’ opinions or laws can change the nature of human beings.”

“We want the same rights”

Before going in to apply for their licenses Wednesday, the Charlotte couples gathered for an interfaith prayer in front of the Register of Deeds office with friends, family, and clergy.

Once inside, each couple took their turn to apply for a marriage license. Scott Bishop and Ron Sperry have been together for 16 years.

Sperry said he felt butterflies of excitement, “being surrounded by people and saying I want to spend the rest of my life with this man.” When they returned to the hallway after being denied, they were met with applause from loved ones.

Sperry said he and Bishop wanted to come apply, knowing they would likely be denied. “Every happily married couple remembers the day they went to apply. It’s a rite of passage that, today, we were denied.”

Sperry and Bishop said they will be legally married in April in Boston, Mass., one of several states that recognizes same-sex marriage.

The burden and expense of travel that “unjustly” falls on same-sex couples forced to marry out of state is another effect of discrimination, said Rev. Robin Tanner.

Both women help lead congregations, Tanner is the pastor at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church and Alderman is a minister at Unitarian Universalist Church in Greensboro. They said they find it ironic that they can oversee wedding ceremonies while being denied the right themselves.

After their application was denied, Scott Lindsley and Joey Hewell paused to hug before going back into the hallway. After being together more than a decade, Lindsley said, he felt every emotion after being denied, including a brief spark of anger.

“We really just want to be married,” he said. “I was born here …there’s no reason I should have to go somewhere else.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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