Newlyweds in Havre de Grace made history Tuesday after a midnight wedding in front of Concord Point Lighthouse.
Havre de Grace native Don Starr and Havre de Grace City Councilman Joseph Smith tied the knot in a private ceremony on Jan. 1, the day that same-sex marriage was first legally recognized in the state of Maryland.
"My guess is we were definitely the first in Harford County and, most certainly one of the first in the entire state," Smith said. "We timed it so we [were] declared married just as the fireworks started in Havre de Grace."
The couple, who live in Bulle Rock, have been together for 24 years.
"The goal was that we would get married before we hit our 25th anniversary," Smith said.
For the past four years, the pair has worn matching engagement rings.
"On our 20th anniversary, we were in New York City and walked by a jewelry store and said, 'Wow those are nice rings...'" Starr told Patch.
"We went into the store not planning to buy anything that day but we said, 'Let's take a look," Smith said of the rings, which they spotted at a shop in Soho.
"We bought them and initially said, 'Do we wait until we actually get married or what do we do?'" he recalled. "We said, 'We got them; why not wear them?'"
Nationally, same-sex marriage has been a turbulent issue over the past 16 years, with movements to ban it in some states and uphold it in others, according to this timeline from CNN, which reports the first legally recognized same-sex marriages were performed in Massachusetts in 2004.
In November 2012, Maryland voters approved legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Last month, Smith and Starr applied for a Harford County marriage license and were able to have their marriage legally recognized on Jan. 1, the first day that the Civil Marriage Protection Act took effect.
"We knew we’d get here someday but it’s just about time," Starr said after the passage of Question 6 in November.
A friend of the grooms conducted the New Year's ceremony, which Smith said was short and witnessed by approximately one dozen friends, most of whom were local.
"In a way, it's almost anticlimactic after being together so long," Starr said. "It's more of a celebration of our time together."
The couple met more than 20 years ago through a mutual friend in Washington, DC, where Smith was living at the time.
"A housemate was meeting some friends and I offered to give him a ride. He said, 'Why don’t you come along?'" Smith recalled. "We got introduced ... and 25 years later, we’re here."
Starr said he was drawn to Smith immediately.
"Within a few moments, I knew that he was someone special; the sincerity and quality and honesty was evident," Starr said of their meeting in 1988. "There's never been any doubt from the first days we met that we were going to be together."
They moved to Havre de Grace approximately six years ago, where Smith was elected a city councilman in 2012. He also works as a human resources consultant. Starr, who grew up in Havre de Grace, is an assistant professor and academic adviser at George Mason University's School of Art. Together they own Glyph Art and Design Studio on Congress Avenue.
After their New Year's wedding, the couple invited their friends to Glyph for champagne and cake, said Smith.
The best thing about being married, according to Starr and Smith, is that now they have the same legal rights as everyone else.
"We will know that we won't have to worry about hospital visititation, we won't have to worry about inheritance issues," said Smith. "Day to day, it's not going to change a whole lot," he added.
Starr and Smith plan to have a reception in the fall when their friends can celebrate the milestone with them. "In October is our 25th anniversary, and that’s when we’re really going to have our large celebration," Starr said.
In the meantime, Smith said he's keeping his attention on his community.
"I will continue to focus on serving the city and citizens of Havre de Grace," Smith said, as a councilman and as a merchant.
"I continue to be concerned about blighted housing and vacant storefronts," he continued. "What can we do to address those issues?" He also mentioned the need for cost-effective improvements for Chapel Road between Route 40 and Bulle Rock.
"This section of road serves a large part of our community and needs significant improvement in preparation for the increased traffic that the Upper Chesapeake Hospital development will bring," Smith said.
The constant desire to improve is one thing Starr said drew him to Smith.
"He’s truly a good soul and he really wants to do well by everybody," Starr said. "He has a lot of energy and ideas. He wants to help people."
Said Starr: "I have a sincerity meter that kicks on and off depending who I'm near. He's sincere, honest—one of the most honest people I've ever met—and I'm very happy to be his partner."