A lesbian couple who decided to take part in a 22-state rally supporting same-sex marriage shocked participants Thursday when they obtained a marriage license from the Pima County Clerk of the Court's Office.
Patti Noland, clerk of the court, said the women filled out the form, which is preprinted to state the groom is "male" and the bride is "female." They then swore to the accuracy of the form.
Unlike a male couple that changed the wording of the document to state the bride was "male," the two women left that part of the application unchanged.
However, one of the organizers of the event, John Allard of Marriage Equality USA, said the women told the clerk's office they were only swearing to the information they filled in, not the preprinted form itself.
"They were told 'that's not a problem,' " Allard said, noting the women clearly looked like women.
On Thursday, same-sex couples in 22 states and 30 cities tried to obtain marriage licenses and then held protests afterward, Allard said.
"It was to call attention to the fact that millions of couples across the country, because they are the same sex, are denied marriages and the 1,138 rights only conveyed through marriage," Allard said.
Last year Arizona voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. In effect, the amendment banned gay marriage. Such unions were already prohibited in state statute, but the law was seen as vulnerable to change.
Allard, who is co-leader of the Arizona chapter of Marriage Equality USA, said the women who obtained their license weren't expected to participate in the event — two men were. The women "got caught up in the moment."
When the women announced they had successfully obtained their license, Allard said, "It was surprising. It was exciting and it was exhilarating."
Marriage Equality has already gotten in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights for assistance in helping the women defend their right to get married, Allard said.
The full names of the two women were not immediately known. Efforts to contact them after leaving the clerk's office were not successful.
Buck Bannister said he and his partner of 11 years, Michael Koch, knew their attempt to get a marriage license wasn't going to be successful. Their application was rejected because they scratched out "female" and wrote in "male" for the bride, Bannister said.
When the women were successful, they were "elated," Bannister said.
"A lot of us were tearing up even though it's going to be a long fight through the courts," Bannister said.
Noland said various media outlets informed her ahead of time that a protest was going to be held and that same-sex couples might be applying for licenses.
Still, Noland said her clerks do not ask about a couple's gender when they apply for a marriage certificate.
"It doesn't matter one way or another. If they fill out the form and swear it's true and correct, we'll issue the marriage license," Noland said.
The women could face charges of fraudulent schemes and practices, a Class 5 felony.
Whether criminal charges should be filed is in "someone else's hands," Noland said.
Jason Cianciotti, executive director for Wingspan, Southern Arizona's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, said regardless of how the women came to get their license, "for a split second the couple got to feel what heterosexual couples take for granted."