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A banner had been hung at the front of her Monday 7 p.m. class that read “Congratulations, Nicole,” and her students cheered for her as she entered the room. This came just hours after VCU social work professor Nicole Pries and her partner, Lindsey Oliver, became the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of Virginia.
Pries and Oliver’s exchange of vows fell on the couple’s third anniversary of their commitment to one another, and mere hours after the United States Supreme Court’s announcement Monday morning to let stand the lower-court decisions in five states that over turned gay-marriage bans.
By declining review of the court of appeals’ decisions, the Supreme Court simultaneously legalized the institution of marriage for same-sex couples in Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin.
“It’s been surreal to be honest,” Pries said of the week following her marriage.
She found out about the Supreme Court decision when a friend texted her simply asking: “are you headed down to the courthouse to get married?”
Pries had not yet heard the news, so was unsure of what her friend meant, but she and Oliver quickly decided to drive to the court house to obtain their marriage license.
The couple arrived at the Richmond Circuit Court around noon, the same time Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Harring was making the announcement that Virginia clerks of the court would be signing marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning at 1 p.m. that day.
Pries said as she and Oliver walked into the court house the guards near the metal detectors started screaming congratulations at them.
“We thought ‘well this is just a lovely reception.’ It wasn’t until we got into the office of the clerk that we realized we were the first couple,” she said.
A certain responsibility is assumed by the first same-sex couple to get married in a state, Pries said.
“There have been so many people for so many years working towards this,” she said. “We started to get the sense that, at least in Richmond, our faces were going to represent that. And then it ended up being for the state.”
Later that day, Oliver went to a 3 p.m. meeting for work and Pries went to teach her class.
“It doesn’t make our relationship any different,” Pries said. “But it makes how we’re viewed by the government different. The most important part for us has to do with our future children.”
VCU president Michael Rao was equally expiditious in addressing the Supreme Court’s decision. On Monday he posted a statement on his blog regarding the benefits same-sex couples are entitled to under university policy.
“Virginia Commonwealth University and the VCU Health System will move as quickly as possible to evaluate the benefits currently offered to eligible spouses so that we may also provide a similar package to same-sex spouses,” his post stated.
VCU has also updated their discrimination policy to now account for gender identity.
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe also took to social media.
“Equality for all men and women regardless of their race, color, creed or sexual orientation is intrinsic to the values that make us Virginians,” McAuliffe stated on Twitter that day.
The Friday after Pries and Oliver’s marriage, McAuliffe married Katherine Bradley-Black and Renée Bradley at their Northern Virginia home, five days after the Supreme Court decision.
He is the first Virginia governor to officiate a same-sex marriage.
As for Priets, she said the VCU student body has been supportive and congratulatory since her marriage.
“They are the ones that made me cry,” she said “I didn’t cry at my own wedding, or in front of all those cameras, but the students on the VCU campus brought me to tears.”