When André Hakes and Catherine Gillespie held up their hands to receive the oath of marriage from Charlottesville Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger on October 6, everybody who had crowded into Dugger’s office to watch and cheer knew the pair were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Charlottesville.
What nobody realized at the time was that they were probably the first in the state.
Hakes and Gillespie took their oaths at 1:03pm, mere minutes after a mandate from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond officially made gay marriage legal in the Commonwealth (their wedding vows followed a few minutes later). That’s partly because Hakes and Gillespie, who have made a point of asking for a marriage license from the court every Valentine’s Day for years, were lined up and ready to go well before the mandate came down.
But, said Hakes, “this is really a story about Llezelle.” Since her election in 2011, Dugger has made it clear that she’d start marrying same-sex couples the second state law allowed her to. That Monday morning, she called in reinforcements to help her make good on that claim.
Local attorney Bruce Williamson has known Hakes, Gillespie, and Dugger a long time—Charlottesville’s a small town, and its legal community is even smaller—and was in Dugger’s office on the phone with a clerk at the Fourth Circuit that afternoon. As the clock struck one, he got verbal confirmation that the mandate had been issued. The paperwork had already been prepared, and Dugger started the process of issuing the license.
While most other jurisdictions apparently waited another half hour for confirmation from the court, a handful of local clerks who have been vocal supporters of marriage equality were just as quick on the draw. At a 1pm press conference, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring himself gave the O.K. in person for Arlington County Circuit Court Clerk Paul Ferguson to begin, but as it happened, no couples were ready to go, and the first license wasn’t issued until 1:55pm, Ferguson said. Virginia Beach also saw a couple get their license within the hour. Richmond Circuit Court Clerk Edward Jewett said he was administering the oath to his first couple of the day at 1:04pm.
Which, if photo timestamps are to be believed, would make Hakes and Gillespie first by a matter of seconds.
Williamson said it was “fantastic” to have been a part of their legal union. But he said he’s just as happy knowing that days later, when all the cameras had left Dugger’s office, another couple he knows went through the same process.
“There was no press, no hullabaloo,” he said. “It was just an ordinary wedding. That in its own way is as special as the first one. What we want is for it to be normal.”
Hakes, too, said it was exciting to know they were probably first, but she said it wouldn’t have mattered if they were 256th. “We’re married,” she said. “That’s what counts.”