Gay couples denied marriage licenses in Charlotte

Photos & Video: Emotional protest event unfolds in Mecklenburg County marriage license office; County official says he supports equality

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: October 9, 2013 in News

Originally published: Oct. 9, 2013, 2:41 p.m.
Updated: Oct. 9, 2013, 4:18 p.m.

Couple Scott Lindlsey, right, and Joey Hewell have their marriage license application rejected by Register of Deeds J. David Granberry. Enlarge other images below.

Couples Robin Tanner & Ann Marie Alderman and Ron Sperry & Scott Bishop.Charlotte City Councilmembers John Autry and Billy Maddalon.Activists and the couples walk together to the Mecklneburg County Register of Deeds office.Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield with Councilmembers John Autry and Billy Maddalon (from right).
Ron Sperry, left, with partner Scott Bishop.Ron Sperry, left, with partner Scott Bishop.Couple Robin Tanner, left, and Ann Marie Alderman.Couple Robin Tanner, left, and Ann Marie Alderman.
Couple Scott Lindsley, right, with partner Joey Hewell with Register of Deeds J. David Granberry.Couple Scott Lindsley and Joey Hewell hug and cry after being denied a marriage license.Couples and supporters gather after the action.Couples and supporters gather after the action.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses by the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds this morning. The couples’ requests were made as a part of a grassroots protest campaign against the state’s anti-LGBT marriage laws and constitutional amendment.

The couples were accompanied by about two dozen supporters as they walked into the marriage license office. Among supporters were Charlotte City Councimembers John Autry, Billy Maddalon and LaWana Mayfield.

Inside the county office, the couples were met by a clerk and Register of Deeds J. David Granberry.

Couple Scott Bishop and Ron Sperry, who met over 16 years ago, were the first inside. Money for the license fee and their completed application in had, Sperry asked the clerk for their marriage license.

“Well, unfortunately, North Carolina does not issue licenses to same-sex marriages, so we will not be able to issue a license to you today,” the clerk told the couple.

Sperry also asked if the clerk could write “rejected” on the application or in some other record that they had requested the license and been present there that day.

“We can’t issue the license,” Granberry responded. “I double-checked that. I had some legal advice and had some other advice on the issue also. If needed, I can attest that you were here.”

Granberry then wrote on the application that he was unable to issue the license, citing state law.

As Granberry wrote, Sperry turned to Bishop.

“I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that every happily married couple remembers the day they walked up to this counter or a counter like this one to apply for their marriage license,” he said. “I bet that they all remember how they felt and the butterflies that they felt at the time. I want you to know that I feel butterflies, too, and not for all the reasons you would think, but because I get to stand here in front of anyone who will listen and tell them that I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I love you very much.”

Granberry told qnotes Wednesday afternoon that he supported recognition for gay couples’ relationships.

“I would like to see that there be some provision for some kind of legally-recognized union between anybody that wants to have a committed relationship,” he said.

Bishop and Sperry were followed by the Revs. Robin Tanner and Ann Marie Alderman and couple Scott Lindsley and Joey Hewell.

Each couple requested licenses and were rejected. North Carolina statutes and a constitutional amendment passed by voters in May 2012 bans the recognition of same-sex marriages.

After their rejection, Lindsley and Hewell paused for a moment, hugged and cried before leaving the office.

The couples said they deserve to have their relationships recognized in their home states, just as their straight friends’ relationships are recognized. In 2011, Tanner participated in marrying several Charlotte gay couples in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages are recognized. Her partner, Alderman, said North Carolina should grant them the same rights.

“We live here,” Alderman said. “It should be here, where we live. We feel really strongly about that.”

Bishop and Sperry plan on marrying in a state that does recognize their relationship next spring.

Granberry said he and his staff attempted to remain somber throughout the protest and do their jobs. He also said his staff wanted to respect the couples’ rights.

“[We] try to be respectful and let everybody say their piece, and that’s mostly what I think it’s about, to give them an opportunity to be seen and to be heard,” he said. “And, we can’t particularly do something because right now it’s against the statutes and the constitution for the state, but we can definitely let people express themselves and exercise their free speech and, certainly, they have the right to come down and ask for a marriage license.”

Granberry also noted that Mecklenburg County residents voted against last year’s anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment. “I’m hoping that [the protest] will start changing people’s minds,” he said.

Today’s protest event was organized by the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality. The group has held similar protests across the South and are focusing on their home state this fall. The group is searching for a county clerk who will defy anti-gay state laws based on conscience. They’ve yet to find one, though, at a protest in September, Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen issued a public statement in support of marriage equality.