Brandon Hagar served six years in the Marine Corps.
“When I went to Parris Island (for recruit training) the chaplain said, ‘You can talk to me about anything besides being gay,’” he said.
“Literally it was ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Hagar explained. “So I didn’t tell.”
On Monday, after living through one moment in history, Hagar took part in another when he married Channing Richards outside the Old Durham County Courthouse. The men have been together since 2006 after meeting in 2001.
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The Durham County Register of Deeds Office issued its first same-sex marriage licenses Monday after a judge’s ruling Friday led Wake County to stay open late that day and issue the first licenses in the state.
But unlike neighboring Orange County, couples who came to the Durham office Monday had the benefit of a local minister who helped them make it official.
The LGBTQ Center of Durham arranged for the Rev. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham of Pilgrim United Church of Christ to be on hand. By 10:30 she had already married five couples and performed a sixth ceremony for a couple that had already married in another state where same-sex marriages were legal.
“It was wonderful,” Brasher-Cunningham said. “And each one was so different: one male couple, one female couple with a child, and I think there were three other female couples.”
If it all seemed a blur, it may have been the flash of cameras, bubbles and bird seed that well-wishers tossed once couples left the basement office and continued getting married outside in the morning sun.
Jon Cochran, 30, of Chapel Hill, clasped his hands in front of his face after he wed partner Ben Bolling, 32, and started to cry.
Two years ago the couple held a fundraiser in their home to fight Amendment One, the referendum that put a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.
“It was sad then,” he said. “It was not unexpected, but it felt like a step back.”
“So many people have fought hard,” Bolling said, “including us.”
Several newlyweds, wary of gay and lesbian marriages allowed in other state only to be revoked later, said it was important for them to get married as soon as possible.
“People said, ‘Go ahead and do it before they take it away,’” said Janet White, 41.
White stood outside the old courthouse with Hilary Sheaves, 34, and the couple’s daughter Ellis, 6 months old.
“I grew up thinking I would not get married because I was a lesbian,” White said. “Regardless of the fact we’re pretty traditional people. We want the 2.5 kids, the dog.
“It’s not like we’re rejecting truth and values,” she added. “We just want to be a part of it.”
Couples interviewed Monday could not recall a problem from not having been legally wed, though Sheaves noted White’s name could not go on their daughter’s birth certificate. “That felt less then ideal,” she said.
Fran Ferrell said she and her partner Kathy Waddle, the oldest among the first couples, were at an age where couple’s Social Security benefits was becoming an issue.
“By three months, dammit, but I’m older,” Ferrell, 63 joked and laughed when asked who was older. “And she never lets me forget it.”
Asked what’s kept them together 24 years, the laughter continued.
“Stubbornness,” Ferrell said.
“Love,” Waddle said.
“Oh yeah, love too,” Ferrell said.
A few feet away, behind the cameras, Richards leaned in and put his chin on Hagar’s shoulder. The couple looked at their new marriage license.
“We’ve been functioning as a married couple a long time,” Richards said. The couple had recently looked into getting power of attorney and other documents that could help provide some of the legal protections married couples have, for example, if one of them had to go to the hospital. It was going to cost about $3,000, they said.
“It’s amazing,” said Hagar, the former Marine. “We could have gone down (today) and gotten some paperwork, but actually having someone officiate it, that’s very sweet. I think we’re going to have a better memory of the day for it.”