CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds denied three same-sex couples marriage licenses Wednesday. In a quiet and solemn process, county staffers expressed regret to the first couple to apply, Ron Sperry and Scott Bishop.

Unfortunately, North Carolina doesn t issue licenses to same-sex marriage. So we will not be able to issue a license to you today, said a clerk after reviewing the men s driver s licenses.

Sperry and Bishop, who ve dated for 16 years, requested to have the denial written and signed on their application. The register of deeds allowed the men to have a few words after the denial.

I get to stand here in front of anyone who will listen and tell them I want to be with you the rest of my life, Sperry said to Bishop.

Scott Lindsley and Joey Hewell, together for 10 years, also requested a marriage license, and were also rejected.

I think it s emotional because you know you can't get married. Then you build up just a little bit of hope that maybe something will be a little bit different. Then it's not, said Lindsley.

Hewell expressed optimism obtaining a marriage license in the near future.

Hopefully, we'll be back very, very soon. It'll happen, but it s just going to take some time, he said.

The couples are part of the Southern Campaign for Equality s We Do initiative. The Asheville-based group is urging same-sex couples across North Carolina to request marriage licenses, hoping a renegade register of deeds will defy the state s ban on gay marriage. In May 2012, voters across the state overwhelmingly passed Amendment One, although a majority of voters in Mecklenburg County voted against the measure.

About 50 supporters, along with three Charlotte City Council members attended Wednesday s marriage license denials.

It s bad precedent for North Carolina. It s bad for the economy of North Carolina. And it s bad for people, said Democrat John Autry.

I'm a conservative Democrat. And guess I don't understand why the government thinks it s any of their business, said Billy Maddalon, the city s first openly gay man to serve on council.

Undeterred, Bishop and Sperry say they ll take their desire for marriage to another state. Next year, they plan to marry in Massachusetts on their 17th anniversary. But they suspect they ll return to the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds in the future to celebrate others.

We would love to come here again as witnesses for our friends. To watch them do what we couldn't do today, said Sperry.

Oh, I can't wait to do that, Bishop said with excitement.

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