Deborah Cummings-Thomas says seeing Sheila Alexander-Reid on the night of their first date was like "seeing her with new eyes."
"All her attention was on me, it was magical," said the Ellicott City resident.
Now four years later, Cummings-Thomas will be able to see her partner in a new light, as her wife.
"It feels finally like all my dreams can come true, everything I've ever wanted I can now have," Cummings-Thomas said.
Maryland became the 10th state nationally to approve a same-sex marriage bill when the measure passed through referendum, 52 to 48 percent, in November. Howard County voters supported the measure 59 to 41 percent.
Howard County has issued 15 same-sex marriage licenses since they became available Dec. 6, according to Howard County Circuit Court clerk Wayne Robey. Couples can marry beginning at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1, but Robey said there are no ceremonies scheduled Jan. 1-2 at the courthouse.
Cummings-Thomas, 44, and Alexander-Reid, 53, were the first Howard County couple to receive a same-sex marriage license.
Although the Ellicott City residents didn't visit the Howard County Courthouse Dec. 6 with the intention of receiving the county's first same-sex marriage license, they did want to be there on the first day.
"There was just something symbolic about it," Alexander-Reid said.
And while a Jan. 1 wedding would bring its own historic symbolism, they agreed to not rush and "to get their ducks in a row" and "do it well."
They may get married in July. It was on July 24, 2008, at a restaurant in Silver Spring that they had their first date. They've been together ever since.
County shows its support
Matt Thorn, president of Columbia's PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter, said the organization felt "overwhelming support" from the community after nearly 60 percent of Howard Count voters approved of the November referendum.
"That was more touching for us as an organization because of the work we've put in to educating voters and sharing our stories in Howard County," he said
Thorn believes the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community is as accepted as its ever been in society and that Howard County in particular has been very receptive.
PFLAG serves about 200 county residents, her said, but during the course of a year its outreach programs can reach 6,000 people in the county and surrounding counties.
Thorn attributes the positive atmosphere to local and state leaders who have been supportive in making the county open, accepting and tolerant.
"That goes a very, very long way in what has made Howard County a very popular place for LGBT individuals to live in the state of Maryland," he said.
Not defined by sexuality
Alexander-Reid, a well-known advocate for lesbians of color, has been advocating for marriage equality since the 1990s, campaigning for the cause in both Washington and Maryland.
She has directed organizations such as Women in the Life and Wanda's Will Project, both designed to promote social equality for those in the gay community.
Recently at a barbershop, she left after the barbers began making fun of a gay client who had just left.
"It's bittersweet to know that you have got this law passed to get you equality, but you can still hear people make fun of you and see people discriminate against you," Alexander-Reid said.
But despite that experience, Alexander-Reid said there has been a "huge shift" in the perception of homosexuality.
She believes this perception shift is driven by people seeing gay couples "as human beings," and seeing the family aspect of their relationship instead of immediately thinking about the sexuality.
"You're not defined by sexuality and we don't want to be defined by our sexuality. That's just one aspect of who we are," Alexander-Reid said.
'It's almost unbelievable'
The Maryland same-sex marriage license represents the second time Cummings-Thomas, a marriage officiate in Washington, and Alexander-Reid, a business development director with the Washington City Paper, have been granted a marriage license.
The couple, who had known each other since the late 1990s, received a license in Washington shortly after same-sex marriage was approved there in 2009.
But plans for a wedding never came together, and now they will be able to be married closer to home, which they say is a big benefit.
"It makes it real, to be able to do it here and happen in a way we wanted it to," Cummings-Thomas said.
For Alexander-Reid, it's something she thought might never be possible.
"Somebody's going to have to pinch me, it's almost unbelievable that it could really happen," she said.