KINGSTON—They didn’t intend to make history, but they did.
Two women, Brandy Horn and Ann Spencer, became the first couple to receive a same-sex marriage license in Roane County. They picked it up at about 3 p.m. Friday, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, making it legal in all 50 states.
“It was a relief,” Spencer said. “I was so happy I was about to cry. I was in disbelief. It was finally happening.”
Horn and Spencer live in Rockwood. They have been together for 16 years and worn rings for 15. They already considered themselves married. But now it will be legal.
“It has been a long, hard battle that love won today for all couples,” Horn said Friday. “It was also a proud moment to walk into our hometown courthouse and be given the same rights and privileges as any other couple would have.”
Horn, 35, and Spencer, 48, both want a wedding. So, they will get married in a ceremony at the Chapel of Love in Gatlinburg at 11 a.m. Monday, July 6. Family members, who have been supportive, will attend.
“I’m so nervous,” Horn said. She said the wedding was the number one item on the “bucket list” of her younger sister Nikki.
“Our families are huge, huge supporters,” said Horn, who is originally from Gaffney, South Carolina.
The Supreme Court’s decision was implemented quickly in most states. Horn said she paused to take a breath when she heard the news. She called Spencer at work to share it.
“That’s the first thing I did…the split second I saw it,” Horn said.
“I wanted to cry,” said Spencer, who is originally from Bessemer City, North Carolina. “I was so excited. We can get married now. We can get married now.”
Horn said the court’s decision, which was celebrated by some and criticized by others, makes her proud—proud to be an American southerner, proud of who she is, and proud of who she has chosen to marry.
“It means love,” Horn said of the court’s landmark ruling. “It means that we are finally not just married in our eyes, but in the eyes of our country and in the laws of our state. We are one.”
Marriage, she said, is not defined by race, gender, religion, or anything like that.
“To me, marriage is two people giving their hearts, their lives to each other, devoting their lives to each other…love, respect, faith, hope, good, bad, sick, health, everything in between…that to me is marriage,” Horn said. “Marriage is love, and everyone has that right to love…It’s sharing your life and your heart with another human being…That’s what marriage is to us. That’s what it means to us.”
Horn and Spencer have lived in Roane County for eight years. They moved here from North Carolina and are now halfway between family members there and others in Arkansas. They had planned a formal wedding for next year in North Carolina, where same-sex marriage became legal in October after a federal judge struck down the state’s laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman.
But their plans changed after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and three other cases on Friday, including one from Tennessee, Tanco v. Haslam. Horn and Spencer said they didn’t expect same-sex marriage to be legal in all 50 states so soon. They thought either Tennessee or North Carolina could be the last state to allow it. But now, Horn said, “It’s here.”
They said they initially met some resistance at the office of the Roane County Clerk on Friday, but they understood that the process was new. Clerks across the state received guidance from state officials on Friday afternoon that they should comply with the Supreme Court ruling promptly.
“We expected resistance,” Horn said. “People are upset that we’re getting married now, but I feel like if we don’t do it now, then we might meet resistance down the road.”
They said a deputy Roane County clerk was very sweet and helpful on Friday, and they have a minister supporting them who will perform the wedding in Gatlinburg. They paid $102 and had to change “groom” to “bride” on the marriage license.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” Horn said. “It’s a slip of paper, but it’s the acknowledgement that makes it real.”
Horn said lawyers and ministers were calling the Roane County Courthouse on Friday and offering free services to same-sex couples who want to get married.
Horn is a nurse extender at Parkwest Medical Center in west Knoxville, and she said she has never been discriminated against by an employer.
“I don’t hide it,” Horn said. “I’m not ashamed of it. I never have been.”
She said she’s been able to insure her and Spencer, a crew trainer at McDonald’s in Kingston, through domestic partnership options. But that insurance costs about twice as much as it would if the two were married, Horn said. One effect of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday will be that they can change their insurance to a family option.
They’ve been receiving congratulations from friends and co-workers since Friday, and Horn’s phone has died twice. She said she posted the news about being the first same-sex couple from Roane County to get a marriage license on the No H8 Campaign page on Facebook, and as of Sunday afternoon, the post had received 1,394 “likes.”
Meanwhile, they’ve been receiving text messages like this: “What do I buy for a wedding present?” and “I’m so happy for you.”
Horn said Roane County residents have been very open, loving, and supportive.
“People have been awesome,” she said.
They expect the controversy over same-sex marriage to fade over time, especially as young people and children grow up in a world where it is allowed.
“(It’s) no longer same-sex marriage,” Horn said. “It’s marriage. As time goes on, it will just dissolve into that.”
“We know not all people are going to accept,” Horn said. “I’m not asking for approval. I’m not even asking for acceptance. I’m asking: Leave us alone.”
In nine days, she said Saturday: “We will be married. No one can take that away from us.”
“Everyone has their own beliefs,” Spencer said. “We’re not telling them what to believe. Don’t tell us that we can’t get married just because you don’t believe in it.”
Still, people have been supportive, the couple said, including on social media, where the few negative comments have been outweighed by overwhelming support. They pointed out that the decision also affects many other couples across the country.
“I’m hoping that other couples will take a stand and come forward and share their love for each other and for our country and the state of Tennessee,” Horn said.
“It’s just not us,” Spencer said. “It’s being able to be known as a married couple now. To us, we are married…in our hearts. Now we get to legalize it. Now we have the same rights as other people.”
“Friends tell us all the time (that) we’re just like any other married couple,” Horn said. “Now our country and our state are saying, ‘You are a married couple.'”
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