The thermometer read 31 degrees outside the doors to York County’s Probate Court before 8 a.m. Thursday.
Jim Strickland, 60, and Mike Goforth, 46, proud to have been a couple for 18 years, waited to be first when the doors opened. A beautiful woman walked up.
“I’m here to get my marriage license application,” said Galisha Henderson, 22 – smiling so broadly, so filled with joy, that she seemed to float off the pavement.
“So are we,” Strickland and Goforth said.
“I’m marrying a wonderful man,” Henderson said.
Goforth laughed and said to this stranger: “So am I.”
The ice was broken by laughter – and love.
The doors opened a moment later, and the cold was replaced with warmth – the warmth of love of couples who wanted to get married.
Most of the couples who showed up to apply for a marriage license were gay. Not all, but most.
It was the first day ever in York County and South Carolina that same-sex couples could apply to be married legally. No more hiding. No more “partners.”
Some couples held hands when not filling out applications or forking over a $50 fee.
Galisha Henderson and Andre Cochran filled out their application and walked out hand in hand. They kissed. It was beautiful – just like the same-sex couples that held hands and kissed after applying to be together forever, because love demands it.
Through the door came Doug Gilbert, 72, and John Saletel, 69.
“46 years,” said Gilbert.
This couple has been partners, a family since 1968, the year Richard Nixon was elected president. The year men filled with hate shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy for daring to say all men of all colors and all races and all religions and all beliefs are created equal.
1968 – the Summer of Love.
Gilbert and Saletel quietly, with dignity, walked into the probate court office.
“We’d like an application to get married,” Gilbert said.
“It’s about time,” Saletel said simply.
The men sat in front of a clerk and showed identification. They filled out the application that will turn into a marriage license.
“We just ask no one to judge us,” Saletel said. “This is between us and God.”
So many say that God is against gay marriage.
This couple, in love for 46 years, sure seemed to have the light of God shining upon them.
“It’s about time the law recognized that homosexual people are human beings,” Gilbert said.
At another desk sat Wendell Hunt and Barry Turner. Both are 54, a couple for 12 years.
Back in 2005, Hunt and Turner had a ceremony that was like a wedding. It happened about 100 yards from the probate court, in the Historic Latta House in downtown York, with 135 people clapping and crying with joy. Hunt wore a tuxedo. Turner wore his Scottish family kilt.
“But it wasn’t legal,” Turner said.
The couple ran their wedding announcement that year in The Herald, sparking a backlash from some who said gay marriage has no place anywhere.
Finally, nine years later, the couple paid the $50 for a license.
“It’s like a weight has been lifted,” Hunt said, paying the fee in cash.
“We both paid for it,” chuckled Turner.
Marriage means for them love, insurance acceptance, inheritance, all the things that marriage should mean.
“We always wanted the real thing,” Turner said.
In coming weeks, Turner and Hunt will have a legal wedding.
On Friday, Gilbert and Saletel will try to have a ceremony to make it official.
“We have to try and find a place to do it, to have someone marry us,” Saletel said. “This still is South Carolina.”
No big wedding is planned. Just them and a hope that a notary or a judge or a preacher will hear their vows of lifelong love.
A ceremony with two men, their God and 46 years – and counting – of love for each other.