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On New Year’s Day, Bruce Preece and Keith Moore were among the first same-sex couples wed in Charles County.

The Newburg couple has been together for 25 years, since both men were enrolled at Marshall University in West Virginia. Although the courts were closed in observance of the holiday, Clerk of Circuit Court Sharon Hancock offered all couples, same-sex and heterosexual, who applied for marriage licenses before the New Year the chance to marry on the first of the year rather than waiting for the courts to reopen Wednesday. She could not say whether other couples eligible to wed had taken advantage of the new state law earlier in the day.

Preece and Moore were wed in a small civil ceremony in the courthouse’s courtyard adjacent to Charles Street on Tuesday morning, with Hancock officiating and Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles) in the small crowd. After the five-minute ceremony, a modest reception was held down the street at the Royal Tea Room, for which Murphy bought the men champagne flutes for their toast.

For Moore, his wedding day was a bit surreal.

“I’m a little stunned. It just doesn’t feel real,” Moore said in a follow-up phone interview Wednesday. “We were just waiting for a time, and now that time has come. It’s like one journey has ended and now another is beginning.”

Although the couple had the opportunity to wed in other states and Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage has been legal for some time, Preece said there was never any question that the pair wanted to wait to wed in Maryland, where they have made their home together since 1999, following Preece’s retirement from the U.S. Air Force.

“We could have traveled elsewhere, but this is our home,” Preece said in a follow-up phone interview. “The people here have been wonderful to us, so we waited.”

Preece said that when he first saw marriage equality laws being approved in other states, he and Moore knew in their hearts that Maryland would not be far off.

In November, Maryland voters made history on election night when they became the first to approve same-sex marriage through a popular vote. Statewide, 52.4 percent of people voted in favor of same-sex marriage, while 47.6 percent voted in opposition, according to data from the Maryland State Board of Elections website. The ballot question failed in all three Southern Maryland counties.

Preece and Moore agreed that among the biggest challenges they faced as a same-sex couple was gaining the acceptance of Moore’s family, many of whom Moore said he has not spoken to in more than a decade.

“My family embraced it wholeheartedly, but it took his so long to come around,” Preece said. “You just can’t change individuals. Be happy for us, and we’ll be happy for you. We have no ill will toward anyone.”

“Their attitudes have left me out in the cold,” Moore said. “I just try not to focus on it so much. My mother has finally started to come around but very slowly. When she sent us a Christmas card this year, she asked in it for us not to think too hardly on them, and that really meant a lot.”

Both men felt that Tuesday was cathartic.

“At age 62, I feel like I’ve finally grown up,” Moore said. “It all seems normal now, like this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Like many other newlywed couples before, Moore said when he went to work Wednesday morning, he was inundated with requests to show off his ring.

Both men credited the support of Maryland’s voters, along with organizations such as the pro-same-sex marriage group Equality Maryland, for helping them along the way.

“It’s kind of numbing,” Preece said. “Being the first in the county has also been exciting. It’s amazing. It’s a milestone, and we had help from the whole community.”

Murphy said in a follow-up phone interview that he could not “think of a better way to start the year than to be a part of the ceremony to celebrate their commitment and love.”

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be there,” Murphy said. “They now benefit as everyone else does from the laws and privileges. To see it in my home district was wonderful. It speaks so highly of the people in Maryland. It’s wonderful.”

As one of the General Assembly’s eight openly gay lawmakers and a co-sponsor of the bill, Murphy also found the support from the community encouraging.

“I co-sponsored this bill and was delighted to see it go through,” Murphy said. “[Gov. Martin O’Malley] stood behind it, and I’m pleased with the support there, and then even more so that the people voted for it.”

Murphy also credited Hancock for her role in the ceremony.

“She really made it possible for individuals who chose to be married as soon as possible,” Murphy said. “It’s an important commitment for people. We’re off to a great start.”

In Southern Maryland, Murphy and Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-St. Mary’s) were the only lawmakers who voted in favor of same-sex marriage last year. Murphy was the bill’s only co-sponsor in the region.

As for her role in Tuesday’s proceedings, Hancock saw the union in simple terms.

“It’s an honor to serve all citizens in the state of Maryland and Charles County with equality, and I’m glad for the provisions in the law that protect religious doctrines,” Hancock said. “Personally, I thought it was very moving to see a couple that have been together for 25 years and love each other be able to enjoy the same rights that my husband and I have for the last 35 years.”

As of Thursday morning, Hancock said six same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses in the county, four female and two male, including Preece and Moore. Hancock is scheduled to perform another same-sex wedding today.

lrenner@somdnews.com