County couples get long-coveted licenses to wed

EVERETT — Thirteen years ago Kevin and Keith Arnett formalized their relationship with a weddinglike ceremony blessed by friends yet ignored by the state.

They plan to exchange vows again this Sunday. And this time they’ll have the state’s blessing.

That became possible Thursday after the Lynnwood couple obtained the first marriage license issued to a same-sex couple by the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office. Because the state has a three-day waiting period, they can’t wed until this weekend.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” Kevin Arnett, 57, said after paying a $64 fee with a credit card and getting a license. “I want to celebrate.”

Keith Arnett, 61, choked back tears when he walked away from the counter with not only the license, but also a marriage certificate.

“I’m pinching myself. I didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime,” he said.

Thursday opened a new chapter in state history in which gay and lesbian couples can legally marry. Voters brought the change by approving Referendum 74 last month.

The Arnetts and their friends, Molly Lloyd-Wilson and Corine Schmidt, found themselves alone in line when they arrived at the county building at 7:40 a.m. Thursday. The two couples plan a double wedding at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood.

Schmidt, 72, and Lloyd-Wilson, 73, held a commitment ceremony 27 years ago in Eastern Washington and welcome the legal recognition of their relationship.

Still, filling out forms and paying a fee didn’t sit well with Schmidt.

“In a way it makes me angry because we’ve been married 27 years,” Schmidt said as she completed her portion of the application. “But you jump through the hoops you have to.”

By the end of the day, marriage licenses were issued to 24 same-sex couples in Snohomish County and 25 couples in Island County. By 4 p.m. Thursday, 769 same-sex couples around the state obtained them. Auditors in 32 of the state’s 39 counties reported handing out at least one license.

Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to make same-sex marriage legal by popular vote. They joined the District of Columbia and six states that already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage: New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Referendum 74 in Washington asked voters to either approve or reject a law legalizing same-sex marriage passed by the Legislature and now signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. That law had been on hold since the summer, pending the outcome of the election.

“For many years now we’ve said one more step, one more step. And this is our last step for marriage equality in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said Wednesday afternoon before signing a proclamation certifying the election results.

The law doesn’t require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn’t subject churches to penalties if they don’t marry gay or lesbian couples.

Same-sex couples previously married in another state that allows gay marriage, like Massachusetts, will not have to get remarried in Washington. Their marriages will be valid here as soon as the law takes effect.

Under the new law, any same-sex domestic partnership registered with the state that is not ended by June 30, 2013, will automatically convert to a marriage.

Thursday morning, state Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, who is gay, greeted couples applying for a license. He recalled how as soon as the state formally recognized same-sex domestic partnerships in 2007, the talk turned to legalizing marriage.

“I remember discussions about how long (it would) take to get to marriage equality,” Liias said. “I don’t think I could have imagined we’d be at this point. Clearly our strategy of having a conversation with the public is what got us here today.”

Jill Ryan of Everett also came down to congratulate those getting licenses.

“I’ve been married 21 years,” she said. “I just wanted to come down and tell people I support them and I am proud they will be able to show their commitment (to each other) as my husband and I have been able to.”

In line, Vonnie Jones, 30, and Harpreet Gill, 22, found themselves standing between couples a generation older than themselves that had been waiting years to be able to legally consummate their relationship with marriage.

“I’m glad we didn’t have to wait 27 years,” Jones said, referring to Lloyd-Wilson and Schmidt. “These people have a lot of patience.”

While Jones and Gill could have waited, they said they wanted to be part of the historic day. And they do plan to wed Sunday.

“Our grandkids will read about this, and we’ll have stories to tell,” Gill said.

Lucy Gonzales and Elizabeth Joy of Bothell didn’t need to come in Thursday because they don’t plan to wed until later this month.

“It just happens to be my day off,” said Joy, a city of Everett employee, with a laugh.

The two had a commitment ceremony in 1999 and desired to be among the state’s first wave of license recipients.

“I’m very proud,” said Gonzales, 70. “I never thought I’d live to see this.”

In Island County, Col. Grethe Cammermeyer and Diane Divelbess of Coupeville picked up the first license just after 8 a.m. Cammermeyer, a nurse who served in the Vietnam War, earned national attention after her discharge in 1992 because of her sexual orientation.

Fourteen couples followed over the ensuing two hours, according to county Auditor Sheilah Crider.

“We are truly thrilled to have been a part of this historic day,” she said. “How many times do you get to come to work and know you’ve had such a positive impact on someone’s life? It’s been a really good day.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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