(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Following a surprise U.S. Supreme Court decision this morning, a same-sex couple became the first to legally receive a marriage license and get married in Arlington.
Arlington Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson quickly approved the couple’s application for a marriage license, and the women then took part in a wedding ceremony outside the Arlington County Courthouse.
“It’s wonderful to be able to stand here today and perform this ceremony,” said Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, a minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, who has been performing same-sex unions for more than 20 years. “The Commonwealth of Virginia agrees with us that every person has worth and dignity and that love matters no matter what your sexual orientation is. We all have the right to be married to the person we love.”
Newlyweds Erika Turner and Jennifer Melsop both are 26 years old and live in Centreville. They have been together for four years and planned on getting married in the District next year. They traveled to Arlington immediately upon learning of the court decision this morning because they heard an officiant may be available to perform a ceremony. They had no idea they were the first same-sex couple to request a marriage license in Arlington until they arrived.
“Not everyone in the United States has this opportunity,” said Turner, referencing the states where same-sex couples still cannot legally wed.
Ferguson noted some changes to the state-approved marriage application.
“Now, instead of saying ‘bride’ and ‘groom,’ it says ‘spouse’ and ‘spouse,'” Ferguson said. “When we got the word this morning, we were not prepared for this. But we’re doing our best to prepare now and welcome anybody that would like a marriage license to please come to Arlington. At this point, we can process it in the next 15 minutes or so. But if we get big crowds there could be a little bit of a wait.”
Ferguson explained that same-sex couples now will go through the same process to request marriage licenses as all other couples. They can go to the sixth floor of the county courthouse, pay $30, fill out an application, take an oath and then get married within the next 60 days. No appointments are necessary and applicants are attended to on a first-come, first-served basis. The Commonwealth also will recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring spent part of the afternoon in Arlington to speak about the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriages in Virginia and four other states.
“This is the outcome that we have hoped for. It is the outcome we have fought for. And it is the outcome the Constitution requires,” said Herring to a crowd in front of the Arlington County Courthouse. “The rights and privileges of marriage, which are guaranteed to us by the United States Constitution, are now available to all loving, committed couples in Virginia.”
Herring explained that the court’s action would allow same-sex couples to adopt children, file joint tax returns, share employer benefits and make medical decisions for each other.
“Simply put, this ruling allows all Virginians to be full members of our society, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage,” he said. “A new day has dawned, and the rights guaranteed by our Constitution are shining through. All Virginians have a constitutional right to be treated fairly and to have loving, committed relationships recognized and respected, and to enjoy the blessings of married life. We should all be proud that our fellow Virginians helped lead us forward. This is a tremendous moment in Virginia history.”
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette commended the court’s decision and the persistence of those who made it happen.
“In 1997, when I was the first openly gay elected official [in Virginia], I really never thought this would occur, even in my lifetime,” Fisette said. “But despite how fast this change is, it really has been the work of generations of people. I applaud the people who had the courage to be open and honest throughout this society and the people who were willing to listen and learn and love.”
Like several others in attendance, Fisette said this is a big step forward, but that Virginia still has work to do to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“There’s a lot more work to be done,” said state Senator Adam Ebbin, who was the first openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly. “It’s legal to be fired in Virginia because you were part of a same-sex wedding. It’s legal to be fired in Virginia for any reason related to sexual orientation.”
Ebbin said he will introduce legislation to help “clean up the code” in Virginia and eliminate all employment discrimination.
“It’s amazing how quickly Virginia is catching up with history. It’s exciting because of how far we’ve come but also because we were expecting this, just a little later rather than sooner,” he said. “I hope we’ll be able to move forward on other issues of equality too. I’m really happy for the couples this will benefit and their children, particularly.”
Del. Alfonso Lopez also wants to end workplace discrimination in Virginia.
“There’s a lot of things around the edges that we still need to address,” said Lopez. “We still have a lot of folks in the House of Delegates that are apoplectic about what’s happening today. Virginia’s changing and the country’s changing. This is going to be a more common occurrence all around the country.”
Arlington County Sheriff’s Office Director of Administration Major Susie Doyel and her wife, Betsey Wildhack, attended today’s event. They have been together for 25 years and just got married in the District in February because they didn’t think Virginia would legalize same-sex marriage.
“It’s hard to put in words. I keep saying, ‘Virginia? Really?’ I didn’t know Virginia would be one of the ones that would be out there almost leading this,” said Doyel. “We thought we may never in our lifetime be married in Virginia. To be equal now in Virginia’s eyes, the eyes of the law. It’s just incredible. It really is still hitting home what that truly means.”