Though Jon Harmon and Mark Pokrant have been together for nearly two and half decades, Thursday’s opportunity to finally apply for a marriage license in South Carolina created an overwhelming feeling of nerves and excitement for the two men in their mid- to late-50s.
“I’ve been waiting 24 years for this,” Harmon said while waiting for Pokrant in the hallway of the Horry County Clerk’s Office on Thursday shortly before noon. South Carolina began allowing same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses beginning at noon Thursday after a public challenge that led all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
Harmon and Pokrant were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Horry County. The two are not able to wed before 12:10 p.m. Friday because of a law that requires a 24-hour and 1 minute waiting period between the application for a license and the actual nuptials.
“I’ve got butterflies today,” Pokrant said. “I feel like a 16-year-old, probably.”
Though on the surface, the vows seem monumental to some, no big deal to some and morally questionable to others, the allowance of same-sex marriage is more than the symbolic commitment to be with each other forever.
“Up until right now, common law marriage has had more standing in this state than our relationship,” Pokrant said. “There’s no greater fear that you have as part of a couple that something happens to your partner. A husband, if something happens to his wife and he took her to the emergency room and she’s wheeled on into a room somewhere, he doesn’t want to be told, ‘I’m sorry you cannot go any further. You are not related by blood.’ This shows we have a right to be by each other’s side.”
Pokrant said it was never his intention to “shake things up” but more to have his relationship recognized.
“I’m just not wanting to have to enter into a business partnership just to have a standing with Jon recognized,” Pokrant said.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused Thursday to block gay marriages in South Carolina. It issued an order denying a request by Attorney General Alan Wilson. The Republican prosecutor had wanted the marriages blocked while he challenges a judge’s recent decision that opened the way for the marriages.
Wilson issued a statement Thursday after the Supreme Court’s refusal to block the marriages.
“Despite today’s refusal to grant our motion, the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet resolved conflicting rulings by federal appeals courts on the issue of same sex marriage,” Wilson said in the statement. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decides to consider the case, our office will be supporting the position of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is more consistent with South Carolina State law, which upholds the unique status of traditional marriage.”
Horry County residents Tom and Neal Osborne-Owens have been waiting for 27 1/2 years. The native Kentuckians adopted three children and getting a marriage license Thursday for their eventual wedding is the icing on the cake to their family.
“This is exactly what we needed to make the family exactly what it needed to be,” Tom Osborne-Owens said. “We adopted the children and hyphenated their names until we could do it legally.”
The two said they look forward to the benefits marriage provides to couples, such as powers of attorney, living wills, and certainly “to not have to carry around a stack of papers like this that makes us equal to everyone else,” Tom Osborne-Owens said measuring his fingers about an inch and a half apart.
The only downfall, Tom Osborne-Owens said, was it took a move to South Carolina to make their marriage official.
“I’m a little bit disappointed that our home state of Kentucky is a little behind, but we’ll take it,” he said.
For some like Maureen McGinty, Thursday was a mix of business and pleasure. She was standing alone outside the clerk’s office with a fistful of fliers. The former emergency room nurse is now a notary public and was there to advertise her business and offer a congratulatory message.
“I have a lot of gay friends,” McGinty said. “I’m doing this because I consider it a privilege to marry somebody.”
According to the Defense of Marriage Act, there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law.
Terry Livingston, a CPA with Myrtle Beach-based Gamble & Livingston, said there are many perks for same-sex married couples, ranging from income taxes to Social Security.
“Before, without the marriage license, as far as the state was concerned, you’re roommates,” Livingston said. “Come [Friday], if they choose to have their ceremony [Friday], they’re now next of kin. And that’s a good feeling.”
Livingston said filing income taxes was a challenge for same-sex couples, because the federal government would allow the couple to file jointly, and then because South Carolina did not recognize their union, the two would have to file two mock individual federal returns to attach to two individual state income tax returns.
“Can we do it? Yes, we can do it, but it’s not fair for these people either to spend all this extra time to file tax returns,” Livingston said.
“One thing that is a benefit is Social Security surviving spouse benefits. Those go by state of residency. I know those who were legally married in Maryland or D.C. who couldn’t get social security benefits from a deceased spouse here.”
Jocee Manigo, a clerk with Horry County Probate Court, helped man the phones Thursday morning and she said it was different than an average day.
“Calls, calls, calls, all kind of calls,” Manigo said. “They kept calling and asking, ‘Is it going to go through?’ And one lady was so ecstatic. They kept calling wanting up-to-the-minute news.”
She said late Thursday afternoon that eight same-sex marriage licenses were issued, but it was especially nice to put a face to Harmon’s voice, who had been calling for a while now.
“I feel like I know him,” Manigo said of Harmon. “He’s been calling for weeks.”
It was just too hard for Harmon and Pokrant to fathom the legalization of marriage in South Carolina.
“To be honest with you, I really didn’t think South Carolina was ever, ever going to get to the point where they were going to let us get married,” Harmon said.
“We didn’t expect this to happen in our lifetime,” Pokrant said. “I’m here in my hometown and I’m getting married. It feels good.”
As for those who will soon make their way to the Horry County Government and Justice Center to wed their same-sex partner, Harmon warns to “be prepared for butterflies and lots of them,” but says it only gets better from there.
“I hope that their 24 years is just as great as our 24 years. If not, even better,” Harmon said. “And I hope they don’t hesitate whatsoever. Go out, get married to the person that you love. It’s the best thing in the world.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.