Lakisha and ShaDonna ask friends to pledge support for marriage in Maryland

Earlier this year, ShaDonna Jackson and Lakisha Smith knew they wanted to do their part in advocating for the freedom to marry in Maryland, where marriage for same-sex couples would be put to a vote on Election Day. They had been together for over four years, and they knew that one day soon, they'd like to get married and have their marriage respected in their home state.

As they considered how they could contribute to the movement, they realized that they weren't totally sure how all of their friends and family members felt about marriage for same-sex couples. That's why they launched a mini-website, sent it around to their friends and family members, and asked them to sign the virtual pledge to vote for Question 6, the ballot measure that would extend the freedom to marry for same-sex couples while protecting religious freedom.

"We knew that our friends loved us as individuals," Lakisha said. "We had had conversations about how they feel about sexuality and same-sex couples, but we weren't completely clear about how they felt about supporting marriage equality. We thought this website was a great way to share information about what Question 6 on the ballot is and what it means, and then allow people to pledge their support."

They were also interested in learning more about their loved ones' preoccupations about marriage.

"When people love you, it's often difficult for them to say certain things that they think might hurt you and that you might misinterpret," Lakisha said. We wanted to create a forum for them to say how they felt."

"We needed to start the dialogue, and with the election being so close, it was diffcult to have individual conversations with everyone," ShaDonna said. "But we feel that by sharing our personal story, people can relate more to this, and they can get more insight into what marriage equality means for people as human beings."

They said that they're often pleasantly surprised by their friends' and family members' expression of support for Question 6. Lakisha's mother, for example, pledged her support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples a few weeks ago, although she has voiced that she's continuing her journey to fully accept her daughter's relationship with a woman. ShaDonna said these unexpected moments are key for her and Lakisha.

"We get teary-eyed," she said about seeing a new pledge from a friend or family member. "It's very moving, and it makes us feel loved and respected as human beings who have the freedom to think, feel, and love for ourselves. To find out that people support our love is a big deal."

On the webpage, they also explain why this issue is so important to them, and how they know that their love is something worth celebrating:

"Until now, neither of us had ever found someone else who was committed to doing the work to fully experience what a healthy relationship can yield: growth, insight, trust, endurance, stability, respect, friendship, faith, support, leadership, intimacy......hope to navigate life with someone on a mutual chord of love."

The couple met in Washington, D.C. in March of 2008 while ShaDonna was celebrating her birthday at a dance club in the city. They exchanged numbers and quickly began hanging out, getting to know each other, and realizing that their feelings for each other were very strong.

Six months later, ShaDonna moved into Lakisha's cozy apartment in D.C., and after a year, they relocated to Prince George's County, Maryland, which was coincidentally where both women grew up. They bought property there and undertook the task of building a brand new home in a nice neighborhood with a friendly environment. Although they love their home, they were frustrated by the fact that just a few days before they closed on their house and moved in, the freedom to marry for same-sex couples passed in Washington, D.C.

Lakisha and ShaDonna are excited about having the chance to see their relationship formally respected in Maryland, and that's why they're working on a personal level to discuss the issue with their loved ones. They want to understand their family members' and friends' feelings about Question 6 because at some point soon, they plan on getting married, and when they do, they want their marriage to be respected by the state they call home.

They also intend on raising children someday, and they want those kids to live in a state where same-sex couples can share in the freedom to marry just like different-sex couples can.

"We don't want our children to ever face oppression based on who their parents are," ShaDonna said. "The children who we bring into this world will be raised under the umbrella of love, and we will instill in them that even though people are different - maybe by race, gender, culture, or religion - the commonality is that we are all human. We are all entitled to choosing love and choosing to love.

Editors' Note: On November 6, 2012, voters in MaineMarylandMinnesota and Washington will be voting on marriage-related ballot measures. Mainers are being asked to vote YES on Question 1 to proactively pass the freedom to marry at the ballot. Residents in Washington and Maryland are being asked to vote to APPROVE Referendum 74 and to vote FOR Question 6, respectively, to uphold marriage laws passed by their state legislatures in February and March 2012. Minnesotans are being asked to vote NO on a proposed amendment that would constitutionally exclude same-sex couples from marriage. In these next two months before the election, Freedom to Marry will be profiling couples and volunteers for the state campaigns. Read more about the ballot initiatives HERE, and read more couples' stories HERE