ANNAPOLIS -When Maryland became the southernmost state on the East Coast to legalize gay marriage, it became a destination-wedding location for some same-sex couples.
Like Tina Harden, 46, and Candis Browand, 53, of Orange Park, Fla., who were together for 14 years before getting married on Sept. 19 in Linthicum.
Gay weddings became legal in Maryland on Jan. 1, and Clerk of the Circuit Court in Annapolis Robert Duckworth says things really started picking up this summer.
“There’s been an increase in the last three or four months of same sex couples seeking marriage applications from out of our area,” Duckworth said. “Actually out of Maryland. So we see that as a big trend, which we’ve never had before … Much of that increase has come from across state lines. The other day I think we married about eight or ten couples and half of those people were out-of-state, same-sex couples.”
According to Duckworth, there were 3,963 marriage applications in Anne Arundel County from Jan. 1 to Sept. 27, and he is projecting a 20 percent increase over last year. Not all applications turn into marriages, and typically 1,200 marriages are performed a year. This year, Duckworth said the county will likely host 1,500 to 1,600.
This increase can be partly attributed to the legalization of same sex marriage, Duckworth said. For a lot of same-sex couples in the South, marriage equality in Maryland has given them the opportunity to tie the knot after quite a few years of being together.
“I would say that 90 percent of them are couples who have had long-term relationships,” Duckworth said. “By long term, I mean 10, 15, 20 years. We’ve had same-sex couples that have come in here that have been in their 60s, 50s, 40s and been in a partnership for years.”
Like Harden and Browand. The couple has two sons, ages 11 and 6. The boys are home-schooled, so the family made the trip partly academic.
“If we were gonna do this we wanted it to be about the children as well,” Harden said. “Candis has always wanted to see the sights in D.C., and we just incorporated home-schooling activities with it.”
When asked what it meant to finally be married after waiting for so long, Harden expressed a mix of emotions.
“Honestly it was like being of two minds,” Harden said. “The first was: ‘we’ve done this every day for the last 14 years. On the other hand, it’s pretty cool. In colloquial terms we said ‘this is my wife,’ but now it’s real. People can’t just say ‘oh that’s what you call her.’ So it’s the same but it’s very, very different.”
Maryland courts do not keep a record of whether a marriage performed is same-sex or different-sex. However, a Capital News Service analysis of circuit court records indicated that 230 marriage licences — or 15.7 percent — were issued to same-sex couples between July 1 and Sept. 30 in Anne Arundel County.
Of that number, 118 came from out-of-state to the county for a marriage license.
Harden and Browand were one of 20 same-sex couples to come from Florida to the Annapolis courthouse for a marriage license during those three months. During that same timeframe, only Maryland and Virginia had more same-sex residents wishing to get married in the county.
Same-sex couples also came from Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arizona, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, West Virginia and Louisiana – all states where gay marriage is not legal. Gay couples also traveled from New York and Washington, D.C., both places that allow same sex marriage. One couple even came from England, where same-sex marriages will begin next year.
In contrast, Duckworth said Anne Arundel usually only gets couples from three to five states, with the out-of-staters usually coming from nearby Virginia or Pennsylvania.
Between July 1 and Sept. 30, 112 Maryland same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Annapolis.
One of the first same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in Maryland tied the knot in May. Marylanders Kim Hinken, 52, and Adri Eathorne, 51, said getting married in another state was not an option. Hinken said getting married at home was too important to them and when same sex marriage finally became legal after ten years with Adri, she went to the Annapolis courthouse on New Year’s Day.
The Edgewater couple got married on May 4, turning their annual Cinco de Mayo party into a wedding.
“It was a really great day,” Eathorne said. “We have this party ever single year [the weekend of Cinco de Mayo] and we always invite like 30 or 40 people. And when we decided to make it our wedding day that was sort of like the icing on the cake or maybe we should say the salt on the margarita.”
Eathorne added that the temperature was chilly, in the low 60s, but that it felt great to have their “nearest and dearest friends” with them.
Hinken said, “I really never thought that I would ever be able to marry the woman that I love. I mean I’ve known I was gay for a long, long time, since I was a teenager. And I’ve seen a lot of prejudice and hate and I just never thought that we’d be able to do it. It makes me so happy, it really does.”