Duane Smith, who works in financial services, had Friday off. So there he was, doing yard work in his Jackson, Miss., back yard when the U.S. Supreme Court granted gays and lesbians nationwide the right to marry.
He put down his tools and joined Knol Aust, his partner of 17 years at the picnic table. Aust wasted no time.
“I decided to see if he was ready to do it,” said Aust, a freelance Web and graphic designer. “He said, ‘Did you just propose to me?’ It wasn’t a big elaborate proposal.”
But it worked. The pajama-clad men got changed and raced off to the Hinds County circuit clerk’s office. They were the first same-sex couple in line. They filled out the marriage license paperwork, plunked down their $22 and were summarily -- but sweetly -- turned down.
“While we were waiting, about four heterosexual couples walked in, got their licenses and left,” Aust said. “At first we thought there was just some confusion. It stung a little to see them walking in and walking out with their paperwork ready to go. We were still waiting.... It was a reminder.”
Monday, however, dawned quite differently. Mississippi Atty. Gen. Jim Hood sent out a lengthy letter clarifying his point -- yes, the Supreme Court really is the law of the land -- and a patchwork of counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Lindsey Simerly, campaign manager for the Campaign for Southern Equality, was at the Hinds County circuit clerk’s office before it opened. Her organization is one of the plaintiffs in the court case over Mississippi’s ban. And she wanted to be there “to celebrate with the couples.”
Barbara Dunn, the Hinds County circuit clerk who had to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses on Friday, was “ready to go” on Monday, Simerly said.
“When I first got there this morning and was talking with Miss Dunn, she held my hand and said she really hopes it happens today,” Simerly said. “They were very, very nice.”
By late afternoon, the Campaign for Southern Equality had confirmed that six of Mississippi’s 82 counties had begun issuing licenses. But they were strategically located enough, Simerly said, so that “most people are within a 90-minute drive of a county that’s issuing marriage licenses.”
Aust and Smith wasted no time Monday. Smith left his office and met his partner at the clerk’s office. Dunn, who had kept their paperwork and license fee in preparation for this moment, called out: “Where are the handsome gentlemen who were here Friday?"
Then she posed for a picture with the happy couple.
“It’s a done deal,” Aust said. “It’s been signed and filed."
The two men said their vows outside, on the steps of the Hinds County courthouse. It was 95 degrees.
So the first decision they made as a married couple was to head off for a margarita.
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