For Lisa and Cindy Bovee-Kemper, the morning trip to the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office on Oct. 22 was a symbolic one.
Despite North Carolina's ban on gay marriage, the women, who were married in New York two years ago, became the first same-sex couple to register their out-of-state marriage documents at the county's office in Asheville. While their registration apparently has no practical effect, they believed it was significant.
"This was important because we are legal strangers in North Carolina," said Lisa, an assistant pastor. "Even though North Carolina doesn't recognize our marriage, there's something important about existing in public records."
The couple signed up as part of the Campaign for Southern Equality's effort to bring attention to the state's gay marriage ban.
The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who is the group's executive director, said it was critical for same-sex couples to register their licenses - something she will do later this week.
Beach-Ferrara and her partner, Meghann Burke, were legally married Oct. 25, 2008, in Massachusetts. They live in Asheville.
"When we register our marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office, we will create a public record that demonstrates our love and commitment. No one will be able to deny that," she said.
Last week, the Buncombe County register of deeds became one of the first officials in the South to take marriage license applications from same-sex couples. Drew Reisinger believes the state's ban is unconstitutional. State officials have said his office can't issue such licenses.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, sharply criticized the Campaign for Southern Equality, saying it was "waging guerrilla warfare."
"I caution the state's registers of deeds that any recognition of a same-sex union is a violation of North Carolina's state constitution," Fitzgerald said.
As it has elsewhere, gay marriage has become a divisive issue in the state once known for its progressive Southern politics.
State law had already banned gay marriage, but voters in 2012 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman.
The issue became more complicated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government can't refuse gay couples equal rights if they've been married in states that recognize same-sex marriage.
After paying a fee to officially register their out-of-state marriage license, the document will be available for anyone to look up at the office, but they will not be granted any additional state rights.
Lisa Bovee-Kemper said they will file federal taxes as married, but are asked to file state taxes as single.
"I felt that it's really important to stand up and be counted, and there's a sense in North Carolina that our relationship doesn't exist," she said. "One of the things I've learned over the years fighting for various different causes is that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon."
She said they have a lot of support in Asheville – a bohemian university town in western North Carolina with a large gay and lesbian population compared with other cities in the state. U.S. Census Bureau figures released in 2011 show that since the last national count, same-sex domestic partners in North Carolina jumped 68 percent to 27,250. Much of the growth was concentrated in western North Carolina and along the coast.