Gay Wedding

Casey Anno, left, and David Wilhelm, of Havre de Grace, exchange wedding vows at the Clerk of the Court's Marriage Room Wednesday afternoon in Bel Air. They are the first gay couple to be married in the civil marriage room. (PHOTO BY MATT BUTTON | RECORD STAFF / January 1, 2013)

As the New Year rolled in, four Havre de Grace men became some of the first same-sex couples to be legally married in Harford County.

Havre de Grace City Councilman Joe Smith married Don Starr, his partner for a quarter century, at the Concord Point Lighthouse just after the clock struck midnight Jan. 1.

A day later, on Jan. 2, Casey Anno and David Wilhelm were the first gay couple to be married in the Clerk of the Court's Ceremonial Room. It was a day they thought would never come, as well as a reminder that progress still needs to be made.

Eight gay or lesbian couples had applied by the end of December to be married in Harford County in anticipation of a state law allowing such unions taking effect Jan. 1. As of Wednesday, Clerk of the Circuit Court Jim Reilly said no more same-sex weddings were scheduled in the Ceremonial Room and no more same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses.

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Smith and Starr had a private ceremony with a family friend proclaiming them married right as the clock struck midnight and the city's fireworks lit up the sky nearby.

Their event was followed by champagne and cake at the design studio they run together downtown.

Although Smith said he felt "surprisingly, not a whole lot different," he said the event was "perfect," with nice weather and well-timed to the fireworks.

"I think that we feel about the same as we did before," he said. "In fact, it's kind of a relief because it's now done."

Smith also said he and Starr wanted to keep their ceremony private partly to avoid any potential backlash.

"The fact is that you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, you keep waiting for something, and you hope it doesn't, you hope it continues to be normalized," he said.

Nevertheless, Smith, who helped found the Stonewall Democrats of Maryland gay rights organization, said the legalization was a welcome pay-off for his years spent fighting for equality.

"Having been in this sort of gay rights movement for some time now, since I was in college and going to marches and things, being pretty active, having this all come to fruition is pretty gratifying to me," he said.

'It feels wonderful'

Anno, 44, and Wilhelm, 53, wore matching, bright-blue shirts to their small, private ceremony at 1 p.m. Wednesday, a milestone in their 11-year relationship.

"We're the first? My God!" Wilhelm asked Circuit Court employee Jennifer Karras after she proclaimed them spouses. Both he and Anno gave a big hug to the equally-excited Karras, the only witness to the nuptials besides a reporter and photographer.

"It feels wonderful," Anno said, smiling.

Wilhelm said he never thought he would see "legal gay marriage in my lifetime," noting he has been openly gay since the 1970s.

"I still find it hard to believe that we really legally can be married," he said right after the ceremony.

Anno also said: "It's nice to have the government recognize what Dave and I have felt for the last 11-1/2 years, and to have the same rights as everybody else."

Both men moved from the West Coast in 2005 – Wilhelm from Washington, Anno from Montana – and said they were still wary about being visible as a gay couple in Harford County.