Mecklenburg County issued a record number of marriage licenses last week as gay and lesbian couples flocked to the register of deeds office during the first full week of legalized same-sex marriages in North Carolina.
County Register of Deeds David Granberry reports he issued 144 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples between Monday and Friday last week.
It marked the busiest week on record for marriage licenses in Mecklenburg County, with a total of 267 licenses issued for all couples, gay and straight. The previous high was 198, issued the second week of September in 2012.
Surrounding counties issued far fewer licenses to same-sex couples: Three in Iredell; five in Lincoln; eight in Union; 15 in Catawba; 17 in Gaston; and 18 in Cabarrus.
Numbers for all 100 of the state’s counties weren’t available Friday, but preliminary results on the first day showed Mecklenburg issued the most licenses to gay couples, with 62. After adding in 24 licenses issued to straight couples, that Monday was also the busiest day ever for marriage licenses in Mecklenburg County. It topped the 63 licenses issued on Sept. 19 this year.
At least 57 counties reported issuing one or more same-sex licenses on Oct. 13, according to data from Cape Fear Equality, an affiliate of the statewide advocacy group Equality NC.
The group, which fought to legalize same-sex marriage, reported a total of 379 licenses issued Monday to gay couples. After Mecklenburg, the busiest counties that day included Buncombe (48 licenses issued), Wake (37), Guilford (35) and Durham (25).
State bans on same-sex marriages began falling earlier this month after an unexpected Supreme Court decision not to intervene in appellate rulings that had struck down bans in Virginia and four other states. Six more states were affected because they are in the same federal court circuits, including both Carolinas.
Mecklenburg wasn’t the first county in the state to issue licenses to gay couples. That distinction goes to Wake, Guilford and Buncombe counties, where register of deeds offices worked into the evening that Friday, Oct. 10, to accommodate people who’d been waiting for the U.S. District Court decision that made it clear the Supreme Court action applies here. The decision came after 5 p.m., when most register offices had already closed.
On Sunday, the Guilford County Register of Deeds faced criticism for the decision from a conservative county commissioner who questioned the register’s authority to extend hours. In Mecklenburg County, a vote by the county commissioners is required to make adjustments to the register of deeds schedule, local officials said.
Granberry had predicted a rush Monday, and he prepared by adding two extra staff members for the busiest parts of the day. In addition to issuing marriage licenses, the office also issues marriage certificates after ceremonies are performed.
At least 35 certificates were issued Monday to same sex couples, who are said to have gotten hurriedly married in the courtyard outside Granberry’s office. Many said they did the ceremony quickly out of concern last-minute legal filings might prevent their marriages in coming weeks. Ministers for those ceremonies were arranged through Equality NC.
The state’s Republican legislative leaders said late in the week that they plan to appeal the ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger’s appeal would go to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which ruled this summer that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. That ruling led the way for North Carolina’s ban to be struck down.
Joe DePriest, Adam Bell and Joe Marusak contributed.