Wash. official prepares for same-sex marriages, including his own

Wash. official prepares for same-sex marriages, including his own »Play Video
Paul Harris is the marriage license manager at the Clark County Public Services Building. While he's been issues marriage licenses for about 15 years, he wasn't able to get one for himself and his same-sex partner of nearly 40 years until now.

VANCOUVER, Wash. – To be ready for the expected rush for same-sex marriage licenses Thursday morning, marriage license manager Paul Harris will pull up the new form the state is using.

“I have to test the equipment tomorrow morning to make sure that it works,” he said Wednesday. “The kiosk needs to work. All the computers need to work. The ladies need to know what to do behind the counter.”

He won’t just be testing the system; he’ll be letting it work for him. After being in charge of licenses at the Clark County Public Services Building for about 15 years, he could never get one for himself and his same-sex partner of nearly 40 years.

“I’m trying not to get emotionally involved with everything that goes on, because I have to work,” he said. “Is it in there? Yes. I am just overjoyed that this is happening. We’re not ostracized as some ‘thing.’ We’re being accepted, and that means a lot.”

Thursday morning, Harris and his partner were the first to receive a license at the office as they tearfully signed paperwork, The Columbian newspaper reported.

Every year Clark County issues several thousand marriage licenses, and the county may see that many in just the next day or two. So Harris has been busy figuring out how to move more people through the licensing lobby and on their way to making wedding plans. The only thing he’s sure about is the place will be crowded.

“How big? We don’t know, but if it’s anything like Multnomah County’s – they had a line around the block, and we’ll expect the same kind of crowds,” he said.

Over 20 licenses were issued in the first 45 minutes, according to The Columbian.

Even same-sex couples still have to be a little patient before they can make it official, however. Same sex or not, all the other rules still apply. There is a three-day waiting period after you get a license to get married. But for people who have been waiting for years – even decades – they're more than willing to go along with it now that the rules include them.

Pastor Brooks Berndt of Vancouver's First Congregational Church plans to be among the first to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony on Sunday morning.

"In this case it's a man and a man. In other cases it's going to be a woman and a woman. The only difference is one of gender. There's no other differences,” he said.

Berndt's church is known for being open and affirming and has been open to gays and lesbians for 20 years; in fact, Berndt is picking up an award this weekend for the church's advocacy of marriage equality.

"To me it's kind of like we've been walking around only seeing some of the colors of the rainbow, and now we're going to be able to see all the colors of the rainbow," he said.

Two people had shown up at the Clark County auditor's office at about 11 p.m. Wednesday, trying to be the first in line for the expected same-sex-marriage-license rush when the auditor’s office opens at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Volunteers from Equality Southwest Washington are expected to be at the auditor’s office at 12:01 a.m. Thursday to hand out placeholder numbers to people in line. Those who were given numbers by the volunteers won't need to stay outside all night to be among the first to pick up their marriage license when the doors to the auditor's office open.

Harris said the most important thing to remember is if you're applying for a license you must bring cash. They don't take credit cards or checks.