Sarah and Linda work toward respect for their family in Maine
October 16, 2012
Linda Wolfe has three adult daughters, all of whom are married. She has five grandchildren. And she has one young daughter, Meredith, with her partner of 18 years, Sarah Dowling (pictured).
Linda is legally related to all twelve of these people. But Sarah is only legally related to one of them - the daughter she raised with Linda.
That's because Linda and Sarah are not allowed to marry in Maine, where they've made their home for 18 years. The state does not officially respect Sarah's relationship with Linda's daughters or sons-in-law - and it doesn't respect the commitment that Sarah and Linda have shared for so long.
"We have this really amazing family," Sarah said. "But I'm only legally related to one person in all of those people. And that's a really weird thing - to not be legally related to the people that I love most."
Sixteen years ago, Sarah and Linda had what Sarah calls a "non-legal wedding ceremony." The couple had been dating for two years, and they were certain they wanted to make a life together. For different-sex couples, marriage is typically the next logical step, but for Sarah and Linda, that wasn't an option.
Instead, they hosted the "non-legal" wedding to demonstrate their love and commitment. They had a traditional ceremony consistent with their Episcopalian views, and in the end, the presiding minister presented them with an unofficial certificate declaring their marriage. He crossed out the words "Under the laws of the state" and added, "Under the laws of God" on the certificate.
Five years later, on their fifth anniversary, they traveled to Vermont to join together in civil union. Sarah said the experience represented something powerful for them, but that it was still not enough. "Once we left the state of Vermont," she explained, "It didn't mean anything anymore."
Sarah and Linda are passionate about winning marriage for themselves and for all same-sex couples in Maine. That passion has compelled them to volunteer with Mainers United for Marriage, the coalition to proactively win the freedom to marry by having Mainers vote "Yes" on Question 1. For the past few months, they've been supplementing their careers in social work and geriatric nursing to work on persuasion campaigning, phone banking, and retention canvassing. Whenever they can, they share their personal story with people in the state to better illustrate why marriage matters.
"It's been rewarding to see my family's story distributed," she said, referencing her family's appearance in Question One, a new documentary that shines a light on the unsuccessful 2009 campaign to uphold the freedom to marry at the ballot in Maine. "For a lot of people, our story brought this from an obscure idea to something more personal - something to show why marriage for same-sex couples is so important."
Sarah and Linda simply want their state to respect their 18 years of love in the same way it respects love between different-sex couples.
Sarah explained that her relationship with Linda is really no different than relationships that different-sex married couples share.
"We've been through the 'For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health' thing that wedded couples go through," Sarah said, noting, "We're still waiting on the 'for richer' part, by the way."
She continued: "We share a home, and we're raising our daughter. We endured the horrible tragedy of the death of our baby son, and then the great joy of adopting our daughter. Our kids have been married. We've had grandchildren. We've survived the deaths of three out of four of our parents. We took care of my mother in our home for almost two years before she passed away last summer. We are a family in every single way," she said. Now we're really looking forward to being able to stand up to make this legal and to be reassured that our family is just like every other family."
Check out a video of Sarah, Linda and Meredith from the film Question One, a documentary debuting this month about the 2009 marriage campaign in Maine:
Editors' Note: On November 6, 2012, voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota 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 this last month before the election, Freedom to Marry will be profiling couples and volunteers for the state campaigns. Read more about the ballot initiatives HERE, and check out these other stories from couples in the ballot states.
- Colleen Ozolitis and Lee Ann Martinson of Seattle, WA
- Jim Lawser and Duane Bandel of Minneapolis, MN
- Beth Allen and Valerie Frey of Fletcher's Landing Township, ME
- Lindsey Dawson and Jessica Chipoco of Silver Spring, MD