Lesbian couple record New York marriage license in Durham

mschultz@newsobserver.comOctober 23, 2013 

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Long-time partners Ann Willoughby, left, and Barb Goldstein of Durham leave the Durham County Register of Deeds office in 2012 after being denied their application for a marriage license. They returned Tuesday to record the marriage license they obtained later that year in New York.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Two local women denied a marriage license in Durham County last year recorded the license they got in New York last summer with the Durham County Register of Deeds on Tuesday.

Barb Goldstein, 66, and Ann Willoughby, 77, got married in Kingston, N.Y., in June 2012, about a month after the Durham County Register of Deeds rejected their application for a license.

Their actions then and now were part of The Campaign for Southern Equality’s efforts on behalf of same-sex marriage rights. Recording their New York marriage license in Durham has no immediate practical impact in North Carolina, where the state constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

But it was important for the couple to do, Goldstein said Wednesday, just as it was important, after three decades together to get a state’s legal stamp on their relationship.

“Heterosexual couples can choose whether to (get legally married),” she said. “As long as it’s not legal (in North Carolina), we don’t have a choice. It was meaningful.”

Growing numbers of same-sex couples in North Carolina are traveling out of state to legally marry, said Aaron Sarver, spokesman for the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality.

On Monday, New Jersey became the 14th state to begin recognizing same-sex marriage, according to the campaign. On Friday, Oregon announced it would recognize out-of-state marriage licenses from same-sex couples, and Hawaii could begin issuing licenses for gay couples Nov. 18 if a bill passes during special session next week.

As of Tuesday, same-sex couples had recorded out-of-state marriage licenses with registers of deeds in about 13 North Carolina counties, with plans to keep going, Sarver said.

“It’s a way for them to say, ‘We’re legal strangers in North Carolina, and we feel that’s unjust. That valid document that says we are a legal couple (in another state) doesn’t mean anything in North Carolina,’” he said. “Obviously these couples don’t feel that way.”

Goldstein and Willoughby met in Michigan through hospice work.

“It was love at first sight for Goldstein, who’d had other relationships with women. It took longer for Willoughby, who was divorced with five children, two of them grown.

That was 31 years ago.

Since then the couple has raised children, cared for dying parents and held newborn grandchildren, they wrote in a letter to the editor in March. They’ve bought and paid for their home, earned graduate degrees, started new careers and, after many years, retired from full-time work.

“The main thing is we’re constantly working to reinforce the commitment,” Goldsten said. “Neither one of us is the type to walk away from something that’s significant. And it’s worked.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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