For two Fort Mill women in the parking lot of the York County Probate Court, Thursday was a day they thought was still decades away.
Kristie Nason and Jennifer Carroll, both 38, had resigned themselves to the fact that their non-legal wedding, held in Charlotte six years ago, would be the closest they would get to a legal marriage in South Carolina.
They were wrong.
Nason and Carroll, both South Carolina natives, were among the first 10 couples to show up at the probate office to apply for a marriage license, after a lengthy court battle declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. The couple was certain South Carolina would be one of the last states in the country to allow same-sex marriage.
“It was shocking,” Carroll said of Wednesday’s actions by federal and state judges, paving the way for same-sex couples to apply for licenses beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday. “So we thought we better not wait.”
Just in case “the other shoe dropped,” as Nason put it, the couple loaded their two young children in the car and drove to York to apply. On Friday afternoon, after the mandatory 24-hour waiting period, they will pick up their license, and on Saturday – in a small, private ceremony with friends and family – Nason and Carroll will renew the vows they spoke at their big ceremony “with all the bells and whistles” six years ago.
Then, finally, they will be legally married in the state they call home.
“Mama and Mommy got a license so they can get married,” said Cooper, Nason and Carroll’s 4-year-old son. “Mama will get to be a Nason.”
Carroll said she will change her name to match her wife and children’s names.
When asked what marriage meant, Cooper ran to Nason, spun around and announced, “It means we’re a family.”
Nason and Carroll said they’re as married as can be in their hearts. Getting the license is more for Cooper and his sister, Sophie, 19 months.
“This is so we can officially be the family we already are,” Carroll said. “It’s for them.”
Nason is Cooper and Sophie’s biological mother, so getting Carroll parental rights has been a legal nightmare since the children were born.
Despite Carroll’s daily care and love of Cooper and Sophie, if something tragic were to happen to Nason, Carroll has almost no rights – even though the couple has taken every legal precaution they can. After they are legally married, Carroll will be able to legally adopt Cooper and Sophie and get full paternal rights.
Nason and Carroll said they were blessed with a community of supporters who have been watching South Carolina’s political and legal battles over same-sex marriage just as closely as they have over the past few weeks – which the pair described as a roller coaster.
“Our friends are ecstatic,” Nason said.
The couple were struck by how far South Carolina had come, pointing out that there wasn’t a single protestor at the probate judge’s office. The legalization of same-sex marriage is a foregone conclusion for a lot of people, Nason said.
And, she said, there’s nothing shocking about same-sex marriage or the couples who have been eagerly awaiting the right to enter into it.
“It’s just families being families,” Nason said. “There’s nothing outrageous about that.”
Mike Goforth and Jim Strickland
When the doors of the York County Probate Court opened at 8 a.m. Thursday, Mike Goforth, 46, and Jim Strickland, 60, of Clover, were waiting – ready to be the first same-sex couple in the county to apply for a marriage license.
“We could not be any more proud to be the first couple here,” Strickland said.
Goforth called their marriage license application “making history.”
“We’re proud to be setting steps for more gays to follow today to come and register for their license,” Strickland said.
Strickland and Goforth, who have been together for 18 years, will have another “first” Friday morning, when they’re expected to be the first same-sex couple to be married in York County, 24 hours after they filed for their license. They first planned to get married right in front of the Probate Court but were told it would create a traffic issue, so they’ll do it elsewhere.
The couple wants to be married right away, but they plan to have a bigger to-do soon. They already had a commitment ceremony years ago, so this will just make it all legal.
“We’re going to get married first and celebrate later,” Strickland said.
Angie Teague and Mary Mullinax
For Angie Teague, 49, and Mary Mullinax, 47, of Rock Hill, Thursday wasn’t just the day they could finally apply for a marriage license, it also marked the four-year anniversary of their commitment ceremony.
“I never thought it would happen in my lifetime,” Teague said.
They got very excited last month when North Carolina started issuing licenses to same-sex couples, and they made sure to get to the Probate Court as early as possible on Thursday.
For Teague and Mullinax, getting married is about equality.
Their marriage should be just like a marriage between a man and a woman, Teague said.
“We want to be able to have insurance and legal benefits that other couples are entitled to,” Mullinax said.
Teague said she was happy for every couple who could now get married, whether they were young or old or had been a couple for a short time or for decades.
“This is permanent for us,” Mullinax said.
Kelly and Stephanie Hawkins
Three years ago, Kelly and Stephanie Hawkins paid $750 so Stephanie could legally change her name to “Hawkins” following their commitment ceremony. For the foreseeable future, they thought, that was as married as it was possible for them to be.
They were the fourth couple to apply for a York County marriage license Thursday. Sometime in the new year – after seven years together – they will make it all the more official with a legal marriage ceremony and renewal of their vows.
The couple, who have three children between them, always said they would wait to get married in South Carolina, where they make their home – even after other states had legalized same-sex marriage.
“We wanted to wait until we could do it here,” Kelly Hawkins said.
“This is home,” Stephanie Hawkins said.
They snapped pictures of each other while they filled out the paperwork, making sure to take one together.
“Let’s get married, but first, let me take a selfie,” Stephanie Hawkins said, paraphrasing the hit song, “#SELFIE.”
The actual act of applying for their marriage license was so basic, so clerical, the couple said.
“Really, this is what everyone’s been fighting against?” Kelly Hawkins said. “You’ve been fighting for me not to be able to sign a piece of paper.”
It never should have been such a big deal, she said.
“Our love for each other is not hurting anybody else.”