I now pronounce you male applicant and female applicant

A Virginia courthouse may have inadvertently beaten California to the punch by accidentally marrying two men.

Published June 24, 2008 7:45PM (EDT)

As everyone must know by now, on June 16, California began allowing gay couples to wed. That's great news for Californians, but it doesn't really help you if you want to tie the knot in, say, Virginia (and don't want to travel). Hence one of the odder pieces of news we've gotten recently: an article from the Associated Press titled "Virginia Groom Passes as Bride, Could Face Charges."

Yup. On March 24, a couple went to the courthouse to get hitched. As the AP put it, "It was an unremarkable ceremony -- except that several weeks later, officials realized that the shapely bride might not have been a woman." Indeed he wasn't -- it was Justin McCain, 18, whom officials had accidentally married to Antonio Blount, 31. Oops. Since same-sex marriages are illegal in Virginia, authorities are deciding whether to file misdemeanor charges against the pair. It depends on whether the couple "knowingly misled officials."

My first reaction to that was confusion: Of course they knowingly misled officials. He was dressed as a woman in a state where it's illegal for two men to marry. But it's more subtle than that -- it turns out that if McCain was transgender and self-identified as a woman, then "it is unclear whether the marriage would be considered illegal." (The article includes an interesting discussion of how the law classifies transgender people, with most states changing people's gender on their birth certificates if they undergo gender reassignment surgery, but with local, state and federal agencies all having their own standards of defining people as male or female. The result, as the AP explains, is that "one person's sex may vary from birth certificate, to passport, to doctor's office.")

That all is interesting, but it also doesn't answer one important question: If the officials believed that they were marrying a man and a woman, how did they figure out their mistake weeks later? That's where the story really gets strange -- in a bizarrely self-sabotaging move, McCain returned to the courthouse on May 12 to apply for a name change. No, not to Justin Blount. Instead, he went for "Penelopsky Aaryonna Goldberry." "It raised a red flag," said court clerk Rex Davis.

Virginia officials haven't yet figured out what to do with the couple (and the Associated Press wasn't able to locate either of them), but they have taken some steps to prevent such a thing from happening again. Since the marriage application asked for the names of the "bride" and "groom," the couple may not actually be judged to have lied. The natural solution? From now on, marriage applications in Norfolk have been changed to read "male applicant" and "female applicant." How romantic.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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