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License to wed

In Spokane County, 23 same-sex couples take advantage of milestone day

After waiting months, years and even decades, the last few hours and minutes of anticipation were joyful.

The dozen or so same-sex couples who were among the first to receive marriage licenses in Spokane County on Thursday spent their time in line taking pictures and chatting about families, love stories and wedding plans.

They snacked on baked goods topped with gay pride flags. Even employees at the Auditor’s Office brought their cameras to capture the historic moment.

Then right at 8:30, retired Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt and her partner, Laurie Johnson, stepped up to the counter to apply for the first marriage license.

The room was silent except for the clicking of cameras as the two filled out their paperwork, and then the celebration began.

Witt and Johnson said they were shaking as they walked out of the office and reflected on how far they had come in their quest for equal rights for same-sex couples.

“It’s what we’ve wanted since the beginning,” Witt said. “This is another incredible chapter in our lives and we’re very thankful for everyone that worked so hard to get this done.”

After being dismissed from the Air Force in 2004 for a relationship with a civilian woman, Witt sued the military and eventually won reinstatement. She chose to retire.

She had a personal invitation to President Barack Obama’s signing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” last year.

So in an act of symbolism Tuesday, Witt presented the marriage license clerk her military ID.

“We can serve, we can get married in states where it’s legal to get married, but the gay and lesbian service members still don’t have their spouses or their families recognized because (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) is still in place,” Witt said, adding, “My work is not done.”

For now, Johnson said, they will enjoy the moment along with the other couples, many of whom hugged, cried and waved their paperwork to applause.

Fred Perez, the recording specialist who accepted Witt and Johnson’s paperwork, said he was nervous about the moment but was excited to be a part of history.

Aside from the new form, Perez said he “treated them the same way” as heterosexual couples.

“I don’t care what their gender was,” he said, adding that the same-sex couples were actually more organized with their forms than other people he’s seen over the past five years.

The Spokane County Auditor’s Office reported 23 same-sex couples applied for a marriage license Tuesday.

King County, which includes Seattle, had 456 couples apply for a license before 4 p.m., and all of them were same-sex couples.

But the parties were much smaller in other counties, if they happened at all.

Lincoln and Whitman counties only reported one same-sex couple each. Stevens County did not have anyone apply for a marriage license Thursday, even though local gay-rights activists were on site for encouragement purposes.

After hearing about the long lines in other counties, Chris Rogers and Matt Dill arrived at the Spokane County Courthouse at 5 a.m. to find themselves first in line. They said they were happy to relinquish dibs on the first official license to Witt and Johnson, given the history.

“I think anybody who’s getting their certificate today is making part of history being first, but it’s kind of cool being one of the first in Spokane,” Dill said.

They also expressed thanks to voters for passing Referendum 74 to make gay marriage legal in the state of Washington. Gov. Chris Gregoire certified the election Wednesday.

Chase Lawrence said he and his partner, Chris Henry, have been waiting more than 10 years to get married. They rushed to the courthouse Tuesday morning expecting a big line but managed to be one of the few couples there by 7:30.

The two were emotional while filling out their paperwork.

“It’s just an overwhelming feeling to know that this is real,” Lawrence said.

The first weddings will come Sunday, after the required three-day waiting period. Couples have 60 days to get married after receiving the license.

For Wes Johnson and Robert Franklin, a wedding will wait until their friends and family can join them early next year.

After 35 years together, they said, they are grateful for the chance to get married.

“We never thought we’d live long enough,” Johnson said.

Char Parker and Nina Stocker said getting married is a way to assure their children that their family is just as “normal” as any other.

Stocker is seven months pregnant with the couple’s second child.

“They’re obviously going to face adversity for many reasons, not just having a two-mom family,” Stocker said. “I think it’s going to be huge for them later on down the road to not have to feel like people are questioning their family unit.”

Parker said they try not to get wrapped up in labels, but there is a “peace of mind” that comes from the phrase “my wife.”

“It’s nice to say, ‘This is my person that I’ve committed to,’ ” Parker said. “It’s a big word. It’s powerful. People get married so that they can have that.”