GW couple makes history in District

They first met when one came to the other’s class to recruit for EMeRG. Now, three and a half years later, they are one of the first gay couples to be married in the District.

Family, friends and news crews gathered in front of the city courthouse Tuesday morning to watch as current senior James Betz and GW alumnus and incoming graduate student, Robb Hawthorne, exchanged rings and simultaneously earned a place in the history books as one of the first two same-sex couples in the nation’s capital to be legally wed. While the two were being married outside the courthouse, another couple was simultaneously saying their vows in a judge’s chambers inside the building.

Hawthorne and Betz arrived at the Moultrie Courthouse at 3 a.m., expecting long lines of eager couples ready to pick up their marriage licenses. But the couple was surprised to find they were the first in line, waiting in an empty concrete courtyard for the courthouse to open its doors at 7 a.m.

The long wait in the crisp cold Tuesday morning was worth it, the couple said.

“I don’t think it was necessarily important that we were the first, but we would’ve been just as happy getting married the 10th, the 100th, whatever it might be,” Betz said. “Today’s about us getting married.”

The decision to become legally married was not propelled by the new law passed in D.C. in December, the couple said. Betz and Hawthorne said they had been planning to get married this coming June in Massachusetts – one of six states (including the District) that recognizes same-sex marriages – where Betz’s family is from. But plans changed once it became clear they could get married in the District.

“When D.C. kind of came through with the gay marriage, we said this is something really important to us, this is something we feel like we should be a part of,” Betz said. “You know, to be a part of the community and kind of show people kind of what a gay relationship can be. It’s to show people that it’s not just couples who have been together for a long time but this is also the opportunity for young couples to start their lives together legally and officially.”

The couple – which used its experience in EMeRG to save a man’s life in January 2008 after he went into cardiac arrest in Columbia Plaza – wasted no time in tying the knot, in part because of the complications that have occurred with similar laws in other states. While California legalized same-sex marriages for a few months in 2008, the passing of Proposition 8 in November 2008 reversed the decision, outlawing same-sex marriages.

A legal recognition by the government also gives the couple certain benefits that only married couples receive. If one were in the hospital, for example, the other is now legally considered family and would have no problem visiting.

“If it came down to making a final decision for the other one, we actually have, you know the legal rights protecting us to make sure we can take care of each other,” Betz said.

Both said they are fortunate to have the full support of their families behind them. Even though Hawthorne said he comes from an extremely conservative family, that did not stop his father from taking a train from New York early Tuesday morning to witness his son’s marriage.

“They love it. They embraced it so quickly coming from a very conservative, straight-laced background. The minute I came out there was just a complete, you know, overhaul of, ‘Okay, this is what a gay man is and you know Bobby is Bobby, Bobby’s gay, gay is different.’ And that’s just the logic that they followed.” Hawthorne said of his family.

“It’s a great day,” Hawthorne’s father said. “I can’t believe the emotions that everybody has, not just everyone in the family, but everyone for them. It’s a terrific day. They’re very lucky to have found each other and to be in a city that accepts them and it’s a great day.”

The couple said they feel that the District, and GW in particular, is very accepting of gay people and said that GW is a school where fraternity presidents have dated each other.

While waiting in line for their wedding license last Wednesday, a man who at first seemed frazzled touched them in a way they could not have imagined. He offered to pay for their wedding license.

“This guy turned to us, completely out of nowhere, and said, ‘My father is a government employee and would have loved to have been here for this. his partner is away on deployment overseas and unfortunately they can’t be here, it’d be my honor to pay for your wedding license,’ ” Hawthorne said.

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