Marriage Comes to the South

Jennifer Rambo & Kristin Seaton • Jacksonville, AR

Jennifer and Kristin were trying to stay positive. It was mid-morning on a Saturday, and they were standing in line outside of the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, just moments after they saw the the door of the Carrol County Courthouse close on them. 

"Now that we're making steps in this movement in the South, we're going to keep moving forward. Love is the most powerful thing, and it's time to make that clear."

It wasn't just any Saturday - it was Saturday, May 10 - the Saturday after a historic ruling from Arkansas Circuit judge Chris Piazza struck down Arkansas' ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Jennifer and Kristin knew that they should have been able to receive a marriage license - just that morning, they watched as a man and a woman successfully received their own license - and they had been waiting outside since 5:00am, ready for their turn. And thanks to Judge Piazza's order, they knew that finally - after being told their entire lives that they have no place at the marriage license counter in Arkansas - they should be able to get married and have their four years of commitment legally respected by their home state.

They stood in line and tried to think about what to do - how to make the Carroll county officials understand that they were legally allowed to marry in Arkansas - and before they knew it, they were being approached by newly arriving officials, apologized to, and told that they would be able to receive a marriage license after all.

They entered the courthouse and, with Cheryl Maples - one of the attorneys responsible for bringing the marriage case forward on behalf of same-sex couples in Arkansas - as their witness, they said "I do." They were married.

As they exited the courthouse, Jennifer and Kristin held up their marriage license, perhaps unaware of the historic significance of the document: It was the first marriage license ever issued to a same-sex couple by a Southern state.

Being able to marry in Eureka Springs was particularly significant for Jennifer and Kristin: Although they live in Jacksonville, Eureka Springs was where, nearly four years before, they said "I love you" for the first time.

They were visiting Eureka Springs on one of the town's 'Diversity Weekends,' after having dated for a few months. Kristin was finishing up her schooling and career on the volleyball team at the University of Arkansas, and Jennifer had recently moved to Fayetteville with her sister. As they walked outside in the small town of Eureka Springs, they reflected on their amazing few months together, and Kristin couldn't help herself: "I love you," she told Jennifer.

Now, in May 2014, nearly four years later, they were standing outside of the same courthouse in the same town, ready to make good on that first "I love you" by getting married.

The women had gotten engaged just a few months before - on March 8, after spending the day in Devil's Den State Park. They were excited to share the news of the proposal with their family - and this October, Jennifer and Kristin are excited to share a larger wedding ceremony to celebrate with their loved ones. 

Both of their families are largely supportive - they loved seeing the women - their daughters, sisters, nieces - happy. And over time, the few family members who were initially hesitant have begun to better understand the love and commitment that Jennifer and Kristin share. (Jennifer's family below, top; Kristin's family below, bottom)

"My family may not have really understood at first - but they were supportive," Jennifer said. "We made sure to give them the opportunity to figure it out on their own and come to terms with it - we wanted to take the time to open their minds and open their hearts. And we're so glad they have."

Jennifer said that her father (above, right) was one of the most supportive members of her family. He passed away in 2011, but in those few months where he saw Jennifer and Kristin together, he was thrilled for his daughter.

"My dad loved Kristin - they got along really, really well," Jennifer said. "He wanted to make sure that as long as we kept Jesus in our hearts, then he was supportive. If he could have seen us get married, he would have been so happy."

Jennifer and Kristin say that they derive much of their strength - and much of their positivity - from recognizing the importance of keeping Jesus in their hearts and practicing their Christian beliefs.

Jennifer explains that God's word on the question of marriage for all is simple as she quotes Romans 13:10, a verse she describes as vital to her own worldview: "Love does no ill to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law."

"We made sure to give our families the time to open their minds and open their hearts. And we're so glad they have."

The women know that their home state has made history as the first Southern state to fulfill the law of love by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples - and yet they know that over the next few months, the freedom to marry could be hotly contested. Through it all - just like they did on May 10 in the line outside of the courthouse in Carroll County - Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton are committed to staying positive. And they know that that will get them through to a brighter future.

"Now that we're making steps in this movement in the South, we're going to keep moving forward," Jennifer explained. "It's great that Kristin and I are secure, with a marriage license in hand - but everyone out there is just as important as Kristin and me - and we realize how important it is for everyone to work on opening the minds and the hearts of people in this country. Love is the most powerful thing, and it's time to make that clear."