Transition quiet for same-sex marriage licenses

The issuance of same sex marriage licenses has gone smoothly in area jurisdictions and throughout the state since the U.S. Supreme Court scrapped Virginia’s ban on gay and lesbian unions.

The state’s Division of Vital Records shows 43 same sex marriage licenses issued in Winchester, the highest number among area clerk of circuit court offices. Other area totals include 32 in Frederick County, 13 in Warren County and five in Shenandoah County. The count spans the period since the Supreme Court decision in early October 2014 through Aug. 31, the last month for which figures were available from the state.

The same sex marriage totals in the area constitute only a small percentage of the total number of marriage licenses issued. The 43 in Winchester were only 3.5 percent of the 1,213 licenses from the clerk of circuit court. Warren, Shenandoah, and Frederick counties also registered percentages in the low single digits for same sex marriage licenses.

Area clerks reported no major strife among staff members after they learned of the change in the law.

Jennifer Sims, the retiring clerk of Circuit Court in Warren County, said she was grateful for the absence of any incidents like the one in Kentucky in which an elected clerk went to jail for a few days rather than issue same sex marriage licenses.

Sims said a few members of her staff “made comments that they weren’t sure they could do this,” but they complied when same sex couples came to the office to fill out the necessary paperwork.

“They were so grateful and thankful they were able to solemnize a union between them,” Sims said of the applicants.

Denise Estep, who is retiring as clerk of Circuit Court in Shenandoah County, said she saw no difference between issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples and opposite sex couples, except for some minor wording changes on the application forms used after the Supreme Court ruling.

“It works just like it always did,” Estep said.

Rebecca Hogan, the Frederick County Clerk of Circuit Court, also reported an easy transition.

“It’s all handled,” Hogan said. “There is no difference.”

The statewide totals show 3,578 same sex marriage licenses issued out of a total of 95,477.

James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide organization focusing on same sex civil rights, said a Virginia couple was denied a marriage license on the day of the Supreme Court decision. It turned out that the couple had married in another state and could not obtain an additional marriage license in Virginia.

“Other than that, that was the only call we got,” Parrish said. “Happily, everything has gone smoothly here.”

Parrish added that strong support for same sex marriage from Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring has helped head off the kind of discord seen in Kentucky over same sex marriage licenses.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com