13 Oklahoma couples speak out about love and commitment in the Sooner State
January 31, 2014
On January 14, 2014, same-sex couples across Oklahoma were pleasantly surprised to see news of an amazing ruling from U.S. District Judge Terence Kern: In Bishop v. United States, the long-standing lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry and recognition for out-of-state marriages, the judge declared that OK laws denying the freedom to marry to same-sex couples violates the United States constitution.
The ruling was immediately stayed, and it will now be heard by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (with a hearing scheduled for April 17), but it marked an amazing day for the loving couples and amazing families doing the work of marriage every single day in Oklahoma.
Hundreds of couples celebrated Judge Kern's ruling - these anti-marriage laws that he declared unconstitutional impact real people with real lives and real families, and it's important to be reminded of that. These couples are diverse and unique - some have married out of state, some are waiting to marry in Oklahoma, some have kids, others are waiting to have children until they can ensure their family will be respected in their home state. But these couples all have two key things in common: They love each other, and they need the freedom to marry in Oklahoma.
Meet 13 loving couples who are hopeful that Oklahoma will stand on the Right Side of History this year. Special thanks to OKC Pride for helping Freedom to Marry connect with many of these families.
Mary Bishop & Sharon Baldwin • Tulsa
January was an exciting month for all same-sex couples in Oklahoma - but perhaps it was most personally exciting for Mary and Sharon, who after nearly a decade of waiting for their day in court were granted a ruling in their lawsuit, filed in 2004.
"Although we had been expecting a ruling daily for years, when it actually happened, we were taken aback very briefly," Sharon said. "But then the tears of joy began to flow. We have always felt like this was our biggest hurdle - and that from here on out, our chances of prevailing are even better. So we're pretty ecstatic."
Mary and Sharon met in the newsroom of The Tulsa World, the newspaper where they still work today. They began dating after building a strong friendship, and they have been together now more than 17 years.
"Today, we work about twelve feet apart," Mary explained. "We work together, live together, share a car, a cellphone - we are so amazingly compatible that it has just always felt right."
Both women have deep roots in Oklahoma, and that's what has driven their commitment to the freedom to marry in their home state. Although they committed their lives to each other a in beautiful ceremony on the Gulf Coast in Florida in 2000, they won't marry legally until they can in Oklahoma.
"Sharon is a fourth-generation Oklahoman, and I'm a sixth-generation Oklahoman," Mary said. "We don't see why we should have to go anywhere else."
Amy & Brittney Stradone • Oklahoma City
As a photographer working in Oklahoma City, often responsible for photographing engagement shoots and weddings, Amy Stradone knows what happiness looks like - and she's thrilled that finally, she and her wife Brittney could perhaps finally be respected as married in the state where they live and work.
The couple married in New York, and they were thrilled to see the judge rule last month that anti-marriage laws in Oklahoma are unconstitutional.
"Marriage matters to us because I want my family to be recognized in the eyes of the law," Amy explained. "Marriage isn't just a piece of paper - it's a lot more than that. Now is the time for equality!"
Shawn & Brandon Cannon-Mcfadden • Oklahoma City
When Brandon and Shawn met for the first time nearly four years ago, they were meeting up largely to satisfy a mutual friend, who had been insisting that the two men go on a date for several months. Neither of them were big fans of blind dates - but when they finally connected in April 2010, they were more grateful than ever for their friends' persistence. They hit it off right away, and began dating very quickly.
On their third anniversary, Brandon and Shawn, after a year-long engagement where they lived together, meditated on their future life together, and fell in love more than ever, flew from Oklahoma to Seattle, Washington, where they tied the knot and received a marriage license.
Then, in January 2014, after nearly one year of living as a married couple with no legal respect from the state of Oklahoma, the men were overjoyed to see that a federal judge had ruled Oklahoma's ban on same-sex couples marrying unconstitutional.
"I tear up thinking about it right now," Shawn explained. "I had hoped that one day I could fight this fight in my home state - but I certainly didn't think that it would be this quickly. We know that this ruling is not the end of the story for Oklahoma - but without a doubt, in that very moment, we put on our suit of armor and prepared for battle. We are ready for this fight!"
After all, Shawn explained, Oklahoma is where his roots are, and it's where his future with Brandon will continue: "Our marriage license will always be from Washington, but our home will always be here," he said. "This is where we both grew up, where our family is, where our memories are, where we met, and where we began to grow as a family together. Oklahomans are good people with very big hearts - and being able to commit to the man I will spend the rest of my life with here in Oklahoma means everything to us."
Michael Palmer & Lee VanDyke • Henryetta
February 17 is a big day for Michael and Lee - it's the day they met six years ago - and this year, it will be the day that they travel to Washington, D.C. and receive a marriage license.
"The states that have marriage equality nearest to us had no sentimental meaning to us," Michael explained. "But we are proud Americans, and we are especially proud of the respect the current administration has extended to families like ours. We felt that if we couldn't marry in Oklahoma, then we could choose our capital city."
Family has always been important to Michael and Lee - even now, they live in the same neighborhood as Michael's mother and step-father, just next door. When they visit Lee's mother, they accompany her to church, and they're excited to be involved in the lives of their nephews, nieces, and great-nieces.
"My 91-year-old grandmother lives across town, so we check on her and go to dinner with her," Michael explained. "She is always quick to hug Lee and tell him she loves him."
Michael and Lee are excited to have the chance to stand before the family members they love and declare their commitment to each other - to vow to each other that after 6 years, they know that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. Soon after, Michael added, "We hope Oklahoma will recognize our union, too."
Kim McDonald & Rebeka Radclif • Tulsa
As new parents, it's important to Kim and Rebeka that they keep in mind the best interests of their son Jordan, who celebrates his first birthday in February.
"My main concern is that Jordan will grow up in a place that accepts him and his family," Rebeka said, adding that initially, the plan was to move to a state or country where she and Kim, who legally married in Montreal, can have their marriage license respected before Jordan enters kindergarten. "But now, with the new marriage ruling, we are unsure of our plans. We are seeing that we might actually have a future in Oklahoma, without fear for custody issues in the event that something happened to me, or discrimination for Jordan at school or a doctor's office."
These are the very real concerns that Rebeka and Kim face living as a married couple in Oklahoma, where same-sex couples are discriminated against. Rebeka spoke about what it was like to marry in Canada and fly back to their home state a few years ago. She explained, "The honeymoon aspect was beautiful - a great way to start our marriage. But we had that sinking feeling on the airplane ride back into Oklahoma, and that was hard to handle: We knew that as soon as we touched down in Tulsa, we were no longer officially spouses. No, we were simply two women cohabitating, with no legal rights to support and love each other as we see fit."
Rebeka and Kim have lived so much of their lives in Oklahoma - they fell in love, they moved in together, they met each other's family members. Kim supported Rebeka as Rebeka took in a gay high school student as a foster son, and together, the women mentored him through graduation. Rebeka supported Kim as Kim's mom struggled with ovarian cancer. And they both rejoiced in their happiness by declaring their commitment in Canada - and later hosting a reception with Oklahomans for Equality, a statewide organization dedicated to supporting LGBT Oklahomans.
They shouldn't have to leave the state where they fell in love - but they see it as the only way to truly protect their son.
"Having our marriage legally recognized in Oklahoma would mean that we can live here without fear," Rebeka said. "It would also fill us with a pride in our home state for seeing the value that we bring to it as a couple - and as mothers."
Jane & Sue Thompson • Blanchard
When Jane and Sue hosted a wedding reception for all of their friends and family members in Oklahoma on January 11, 2014, they had no idea that just one week later, the state of Oklahoma would make such big news for the freedom to marry.
"Even though we knew the ruling would immediately go to the appeals process, we were shocked and excited," Jane said. "I did not think we would be able to get married in my lifetime - much less get married in Oklahoma. In one word, we are thrilled."
The January 11 reception was the celebratory was a supplement to their wedding day on December 28, 2013, when they received a marriage license in Minnesota and said their vows in front of 65 friends and family members.
Their celebrations this year were happy mile markers in their 12 years of love and commitment - and now, they're excited at the possibility that Oklahoma could finally grant them legal respect.
"Marriage matters to us because it is the national symbol for love and commitment," Jane said. "It makes us a family in the eyes of the law."
Meredith & Casey Marsh-Shaevitz • Yukon
For the last four years, Meredith and Casey say that their lives have been a "whirlwind" - packed with raising their two children, completing their education, building their careers, and falling deeper in love each day.
The women married in Des Moines, Iowa in August 2012, following the wedding up with a beautiful ceremony at the First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City, alongside the children that they have been raising together since the day they met. They said that it is important for them that their children grow up in a state where their mothers are respected as what they are: a loving, committed married couple.
"We tell our kids every day that you teach people how to treat you," Meredith said. "I want to be an example of this and to have the ability to have a voice in this matter. I want to teach Oklahomans that our human rights should not be held to a popular vote - to show them that we are people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and we deserve to have the same rights as any heterosexual couple."
Meredith and Casey voiced their gratitude for Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin (the first couple in this post), who pushed for the freedom to marry in Oklahoma with their lawsuit nine years ago. "It's nice to know that these two beautiful couples started this nine years ago," Meredith said. "It's amazing that because of them, we may get this wonderful recognition we deserve."
Lacey & Judith Veazey-Daniel • Oklahoma City
It's an amazing start to 2014 for Lacey and Judith: Not only did they rejoice when a federal judge ruled anti-marriage laws in Oklahoma unconstitutional, but they're also readying for the birth of their first child in the coming weeks.
Both women were born and raised in Mississippi, where they met through college and began dating nine years ago - in 2006, they moved to Oklahoma, where they've been ever since. "Looking back now, I can see that every path I took from high school to college was leading me directly to her," Lacey said. "She is my soul mate, my other half, my meant-to-be."
Despite dealing with hardships involving their families accepting their love, Judith and Lacey have supported each other through everything over the past nine years, and they have worked to show their families why their love - and their freedom to marry - matters. "We've come a long way," Lacey said about her family understanding her sexuality. "But looking back, it has all been worth it."
Now, they're thrilled to begin this next phase of their journey together. They are legally married in Iowa, and they're excited that someday soon, they could have the chance to have their marriage respected in Oklahoma.
"Marriage has shown the world that we are not any different from other couples," Lacey explained. "We both love Oklahoma, and having the freedom to marry here would allow us to stay and continue with the happy lives we have here."
Darren Black Bear & Jason Pickel • Fort Reno
This year, Darren and Jason became the first same-sex couple in Oklahoma's history to legally marry within the state's borders: As a member of the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes, a sovereign tribal nation whose marriage laws do not specify marriage, Darren was able to propose to Jason and marry him through the tribal code.
They received a marriage license in October and made national headlines because of its historic nature. "Our wedding ceremony was a whirlwind of emotion - it was crazy how fast time can fly by," Jason explained. "It was such a beautiful moment for us and our friends who came to witness the event."
The license has allowed them access to a wide range of protections that married couples can receive - including the ability for Jason to be added to Darren's health insurance - and granted them respect for their nine years of love and commitment.
Now, the couple wants respect for their legal marriage license in the rest of Oklahoma, and they're looking forward to the day that all couples in the state can legally marry.
"We knew that there would be a hold put on marriages for same-sex couples here after the ruling," Jason explained. "But we are hopeful that soon, our fellow LGBT Oklahomans will be afforded the opportunity to legally marry the one that they love."
Kim McAnally & Cynthia Sutton • Tulsa
Over the past 11 years, Cynthia and Kim have gotten used to celebrating with each other in amazing moments of triumph and supporting each other when it felt like the world was stacked against them. They were especially tested in 2011, when Cynthia was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and had to endure chemotherapy and radiation.
"Kim took care of me without fail," Cynthia explained. "She still continues to know all of my expressions and signs if something is wrong. She is truly a kind soul."
Cynthia has been in remission for two years now, and she is thrilled to have the chance to enter the next phase of her life with Kim. They're especially excited that this next phase could include a legal marriage for them in their own state. In June 2010, they held a commitment ceremony alongside some of their closest friends in Daytona, FL, and then had a large reception in Tulsa.
"Now, we continue to wait for Oklahoma to extend the freedom to marry to couples like us," Cynthia said. "I am patient - we have waited so long but I see it happening here. It is exciting to see this happening in my lifetime."
Dustin Sessions & Kyle Simon • Shawnee
Dustin and Kyle live in Shawnee, OK in what Dustin calls "a fairy tale come true."
Dustin proposed to Kyle on New Year's Eve in Oklahoma City, where they watched as the ball was raised into 2014, an Oklahoma City tradition.
"Marriage is what we feel is the next step in our commitment," Dustin said. "It is a loving bond - something that both of us have always wanted. Although we know in our hearts that we are committed to each other, we would like to make it formal and legal."
"Marriage is that extra mile that you take with your true love," Dustin said, expressing that he hopes that soon, Oklahoma embraces the freedom to marry for all families. "It's that commitment to live with your better half - with your heart, with your soul, with your everything."
Holly & Kelsie Leighty • Enid
On a Tuesday afternoon in January 2014, Kelsie Leighty was enjoying a normal day at work when she saw on Facebook news that a federal judge in Oklahoma had struck down anti-marriage laws in the state as unconstitutional. She immediately made two important calls: one to her mother, and one to her partner of over three years, her fiancé Holly.
"I burst into tears, called Holly, and she didn't believe me at first," Kelsie laughed. "When I got home, Holly was standing there in our house, and she said to me, 'I can't wait to marry you in front of all of our family and friends, in our own home state.' We hugged for a long time, letting the tears fill our eyes. It was truly an unforgettable feeling."
As lifelong Oklahomans, Holly and Kelsie were proud to see the ruling in their state - and they're hopeful that the ruling is upheld in the court of appeals.
"We are hoping and praying that marriage becomes legal in Oklahoma. We want to celebrate with all of our friends and family," Kelsie explained. She added that she and Holly are looking forward to expanding their family, saying, "Holly and I are trying to start a family or our own, to fulfill dreams of hearing little feet running through our house and sweet family cuddles before bed. We will have it - but we need a marriage first. A marriage that is legal."