Cris Elkins and Gene Hannold walked into Washington County Circuit Court together on Wednesday afternoon as a same-sex couple of nearly 39 years, waiting for their chance at equality.
After picking up their marriage license, Elkins, 68, and Hannold, 80, officially became spouses during a brief ceremony administered by Deputy Clerk of Courts Rebecca Rishell inside the small marriage room at the courthouse.
Earlier Wednesday, the first same-sex couple in the county — two women from the Williamsport area who asked to remain anonymous — also was married at the courthouse.
Elkins of Knoxville, Md., said he and Hannold moved from North Carolina to Maryland almost two years ago in hopes that the state would be one of the next to legalize same-sex marriage.
“I didn’t think the public would approve it, but here we are,” he said. “... I’ve been justifying my right to exist for the last 68 years, fighting the stigma of homosexuality, so this is a milestone. Yes, it definitely is.”
The Maryland General Assembly passed a law in the spring making same-sex marriage legal in the state.
Opponents collected enough signatures to force a statewide referendum on the issue in the November election.
Voters upheld the law on Nov. 6 and after Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a proclamation certifying the election results, it took effect Jan. 1.
Although same-sex marriages are not federally recognized, eight other states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia recognize the unions and award state-level benefits.
While the day was a longtime coming for Elkins, he said he hopes to see more states introduce legislation to recognize same-sex marriage.
“This is not about us. It’s about the next generation, really,” Elkins said. “I’ve got a nephew who’s gay, and I don’t want him to have to grow up somewhere like our generation did. That’s why we’re here tying the knot, so the next generation can have something to look forward to.”