The Campaign for Southern Equality released this image of their protest in Greensboro today. Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen is seen on the left. Couple Cheryl #### and Tracey are on the right.
The Campaign for Southern Equality released this image of their protest in Greensboro today. Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen is seen on the left. Couple Cheryl and Tracey Bridges are on the right.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A local official charged with overseeing marriage and other licensing matters in Guilford County denied marriage licenses to two same-sex couples today, but issued a public statement in support of marriage equality and opposing laws which discriminate against same-sex couples.

Guilford Country Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen told the two couples, Cheryl and Tracey Bridges and Shela Williams and Deborah Wade, that he could not issue them marriage licenses. The two couples were participating in a protest planned by the Asheville, N.C.-based Coalition for Southern Equality.

But, in a statement on his Facebook page, Thigpen said he supported marriage equality, but could not fulfill the couples’ requests.

“While I strongly believe that the recent US Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor makes it clear that North Carolina law prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the United States Constitution’s Due Process Clause contained in the Fifth Amendment (including its equal protection component), this issue is currently making its way through the courts and it would be irresponsible for this office to act before the Court has issued its ruling,” Thigpen said.

The official also said he had participated in a “prayer for reconciliation” held by the organization before the protest. He further said he supports full equality for all LGBT people.

“I do believe LGBT couples and families will soon achieve full marriage equality in North Carolina and look forward to the day when I will be able to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples,” Thigpen said.

He added, “I want to applaud the couples for having the courage and commitment to stand up for their families. These couples are like those I see every day. They love each other and want to commit their lives to one another in front of their family and friends in their home state of North Carolina.
“They don’t want to change institution of marriage; they simply want to join it by making lifelong promises of commitment and devotion to one another.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality has held several similar protests, including sit-ins and marches, in cities across the South. This fall, they’ll hold actions in North Carolina, including stops in Burke, Henderson, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Transylvania and Cabarrus Counties. The Charlotte stop is expected on Oct. 9.

A lawsuit challenging the state’s anti-gay marriage Amendment One, passed by voters last year, is currently pending in federal court in Greensboro. The suit was brought by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and originally sought to challenge the state’s ban on second-parent adoption. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper did not block the ACLU’s request to expand the suit to challenge the amendment.

Read Thigpen’s full statement below:

“Two committed couples, Cheryl and Tracey Bridges, and Shela Williams and Deborah Wade requested marriage licenses today at the Guilford County Register of Deeds office in Greensboro. North Carolina law prohibits the issuance of marriage licenses to any gay couple.

“Prior to the couples’ entrance, I took part in a prayer for reconciliation for all who have strong views on this matter.

“The underlying legal issues these couples raise are currently being litigated in the Federal Court right here in Guilford County.

“While I strongly believe that the recent US Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor makes it clear that North Carolina law prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the United States Constitution’s Due Process Clause contained in the Fifth Amendment (including its equal protection component), this issue is currently making its way through the courts and it would be irresponsible for this office to act before the Court has issued its ruling.

“I do believe LGBT couples and families will soon achieve full marriage equality in North Carolina and look forward to the day when I will be able to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples.

“I want to applaud the couples for having the courage and commitment to stand up for their families. These couples are like those I see every day. They love each other and want to commit their lives to one another in front of their family and friends in their home state of North Carolina.

“They don’t want to change institution of marriage; they simply want to join it by making lifelong promises of commitment and devotion to one another.

“These couples chose to come to the Guilford County Register of Deeds on Monday, September 16th-my daughter Elle’s birthday.

“Elle turns 10 years old today. She’s a bright and energetic young girl. I have no idea who she will ultimately choose to spend the rest of her life one day. As a father, I want her to be loved, appreciated and cared for. I want her to take marriage seriously along with the fidelity and commitment. And selfishly, I want to make the world’s greatest father/daughter dance video at her wedding!

“I have no idea if she will be straight or gay. I just hope and pray she’d live in an America that did two things: uphold what is at the heart of all of our values as people-that we’d want to treat each other the way we’d want to be treated. In addition, we’d uphold a central value of who we are as a nation: that we are all created equal. That’s what I want for Elle.

“Cheryl, Tracey, Sheila, and Deborah deserve that too.”

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.