Brenda Clark and Carol McCrory were first in line early Tuesday morning to submit an application for a marriage license to the Buncombe County Register of Deeds.
"It was phenomenal because we had been rejected four other times," McCrory said in an interview with BuzzFeed. "We finally felt accepted not just for ourselves, but we felt we took a giant step forward for all of the LGBT people in North Carolina."
They are the first same-sex couple to have a marriage license application accepted anywhere in North Carolina, and potentially anywhere in the South, according to the Campaign for Southern Equality.
The Fairview, N.C. couple, who have been together for 25 years, were joined by nine other gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage licenses after the county's Register of Deeds, Drew Reisinger, announced he would allow the couples to apply and bring a challenge to the state's equal marriage ban to Attorney General Roy Cooper. They were cheered on by over 100 supporters in the office lobby and outside.
"It was absolutely overwhelming but also reinforcing because we have been on this journey for almost two and half years," Clark said. One supporter who they'd never met passed along a purple heart her 5-year-old daughter made for them after seeing their picture in the local newspaper, McCrory said.
On Monday, Cooper, a Democrat, stated his personal support for marriage equality, but said his office would defend North Carolina law, which includes a 2012 voter-approved constitutional ban on legal marriage for same-sex couples, Amendment 1. Hours later, Reisinger announced he would challenge the attorney general by accepting applications from gay and lesbian couples, saying, "I will let each couple know that it is my hope to grant them a license, but I need to seek the North Carolina Attorney General's approval." A spokeswoman for Cooper said the request would be denied.
Clark and McCory remain hopeful, but realistic, acknowledging the uncertain fate of their application. After the county immediately rejected their first application in 2011, McCrory 69 and Clark, 66, who are both retired, made t-shirts reading, "Before We Die," to show their commitment to legally tying the knot.
"We know that it's going to Roy Cooper and it's going to be up to him," Clark said. "I don't know which way he is going to go. I hope he does some soul searching and walks the talk of his support of marriage equality and approves our licenses."
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, applauded the couples involved in the Tuesday action as part of the organization's We Do campaign and urged Cooper to find Amendment 1 unconstitutional.
"We are very hopeful that he has an opportunity to go over the formal petition Mr. Reisinger will present that explains the legal and constitutional rationale for allowing marriage equality. We hope he will closely deliberate over the petition for request of opinion and come to that conclusion."
Other state attorney generals have refused to defend equal marriage bans, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. This sets a precedent Cooper could follow, Beach-Ferrara said.
Regardless, Clark and McCrory plan to marry in New York City early next month, which they note will be North Carolina's loss.
"Thousands and thousands and thousands of gay couples in the South are going to the 13 states where it's legal and they are spending their money and boosting these economies," McCrory said. "North Carolina will eventually recognize our marriage, but they will have missed the party."