Same-sex couples lead to marriage licenses doubling

By Carol Morello and Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; B01

An unusual thing happened on the way to the altar in the District over the past 12 months.

At least as many same-sex couples as heterosexual couples - and possibly more - appear to have applied for marriage licenses since gay marriage was legalized in the city last March.

The total number of applications more than doubled since the first same-sex couples lined up to get their licenses, from about 3,100 in the previous year to 6,600 during the past 12 months, said Leah H. Gurowitz, spokeswoman for D.C. Superior Court, which issues the licenses.

Although the court does not differentiate between same-sex and heterosexual couples in its record-keeping, in previous years the number of applications varied by only 100 or less. So virtually all the increase is due to same-sex couples, Gurowitz said.

Not everyone who got a marriage license lived in the District. Many couples came from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and other states farther afield.

The court doesn't keep track of how many couples actually wed. The licenses have no expiration date, and the only requirement is that the marriage be performed within District boundaries.

Wednesday is the first anniversary of the city's first same-sex weddings.

Darlene Garner and Lorilyn "Candy" Holmes of Laurel wed that day at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, which lobbied for marriage equality. They also had a religious ceremony June 30 and plan to celebrate both dates as their anniversaries.

The women, who started their relationship 15 years ago, said the differences they perceive as a married couple have been subtle yet significant.

"The primary difference for me is how others see us," said Garner, 62. "Others now recognize and respect us as a couple that is completely and in every possible way committed to each other."

A repairman had just left their home in Laurel, and Garner said she told him that Holmes was her wife.

"Being able to use the term 'wife' was important," Garner said. "He didn't flinch. He just said 'okay.' People are flinching less these days, or at least they're not showing it."

Garner said her four adult children from a previous marriage no longer have to wonder who will be empowered to oversee her care as she ages. Holmes, 54, said she feels on firmer footing when she speaks up urging her employer, the Government Accountability Office, to pay for Garner's health care.

"Being legally married has brought a certain level of comfort, a certain level of structure," she said.

In the year since Rocky Galloway married his longtime love, Reginald Stanley, in the District, the rhythms of their lives haven't changed all that much. They still get up every morning, get their twin 2-year-old daughters prepared for their day, go to work and live their lives the way other happy, committed couples do.

What has changed, however, is knowing that their union is now legal, the same as marriages between men and women have always been, said Galloway, 50, of Chevy Chase, an account manager for an IT firm.

"There is something about marriage. It's a distinct institution," he said. "If you say you are married, people get it. If you say you are in a civil union, they say, 'Okay, but what is that?' Being married gives your relationship a different level of validity."

Galloway and Stanley met seven years ago at a professional singles networking group in the District.

Five years ago, they were joined in a commitment ceremony. "We didn't have marriage available at the time," Galloway said. "The legal marriage last year was a piece of cake because we were already part of a committed relationship. We had joined households and brought children into that union."

Galloway remembered "the euphoria leading up to and during the marriage ceremony."

"It became very obvious to us in very short order that this is something that is bigger than ourselves," he said. "It is representative of the marriage equality movement that is happening in our city, our country and the world."

He said they have faced no discrimination or criticism for getting married. "It's been interesting meeting people, like when we're with the kids, and they assume that you are in a heterosexual relationship and you correct them and say 'My partner is male.' They get right through it," he said. "That is to the credit of the advocacy groups and the people of D.C. and the fact that we are very transient and many, many cultures come to live in this area. We're more open and embracing than some."

He acknowledged that there are still detractors, those who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and gay unions should have another name.

"I understand what they are saying, but by giving it a different name, they would be making it different and there should be no difference," he said. "When you call it something different, that makes it different. States and municipalities that have domestic partnership laws define those relationships as something different. With marriage, people understand the level of commitment involved. That's what I love about the term 'marriage equality' - it is giving others the same rights."

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