Last summer, on August 26, 2012, Rhett Tinsley Lamoreaux watched as his two moms got married at the most joyful party he had ever been to: their wedding. After nearly 10 years of commitment, his moms, Vanessa Lamoreaux and Kendra Tinsley, had gathered all of their friends and supportive family members (their "framily," as they call it) to witness their declaration of love, commitment, and forever.
"We all got married last year!" said Rhett, who is now three and a half years old. "I carried a ring! It was on the beach!"
After Rhett excitedly explained that his family got married and that he was charged with walking barefoot through the sandy beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts to deliver the rings to his moms, Kendra provided clarification.
"Having Rhett there as a part of it, and him thinking 'we all got married! I'm getting married, too!' validated that sense that I had of what marriage is about - that it's about family," Kendra said. For her and Vanessa, their wedding day was a truly joyous celebration. Their closest loved ones flew from all over the country to spend time with the couple on the beach of Provincetown, witness the vows and "I Do" declarations from Vanessa and Kendra, and enjoy a beautiful clambake reception.
Vanessa and Kendra had traveled many miles to be there on the beach in Massachusetts, promising their commitment to each other and getting their marriage license. They live in Topeka, Kansas, but because same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry in Kansas, they flew to Massachusetts - the first state to ever extend marriage to same-sex couples - to tie the knot. "I always thought I wanted to be married, but I never thought I'd actually be able to," Kendra explained. "I kind of resigned myself to that - so to actually have an opportunity to marry in Massachusetts was overwhelming to me."
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She and Vanessa met in 2001, when Kendra began working in the office where Vanessa had been working for several years. Vanessa wooed Kendra as a friend, and after a few months, they became very close. In 2005, both women endured break-ups, supporting each other from their heartbreaks and helping each other move on. Vanessa moved into a spare bedroom that Kendra had, and their friendship developed into a romance.
"We didn't intend to fall in love - it just happened," Vanessa said, adding, "What better person to fall in love with than your best friend?"
They looked to expand their family in 2008 and 2009, and when they did, they began to realize how important it was to have their commitment legally respected. Vanessa planned on carrying their child, and in the beginning stages of this process, she was turned away from several providers who wouldn't sign off on the women as patients.
They finally found a provider, and as they readied for the arrival of their baby boy, Rhett, they fell into a hole that showed them just how many legal protections and rights they were denied because they are a same-sex couple. "In Kansas, Kendra can't adopt Rhett," Vanessa explained. "The lack of rights as a family was and is appalling. Our son was a planned addition to our family, and to have the law say that Kendra can't legally be his mother was and is outrageous."
"We have a ton of paperwork to prove our commitment and family connection," Kendra said. "We travel with our three-ring binder of legal paperwork so that if something were to happen to Vanessa, it shows that I have the authority to make decisions on Vanessa’s and Rhett’s behalf." The women needed all of that paperwork the night that Rhett was born - Vanessa's labor became traumatic, and the delivery was not smooth. "We needed that paperwork," Kendra said, "And fortunately, the staff honored it. As our family grows, we need to have security and know that we can provide for each other. Marriage adds to that security."
The women saw that being recognized as a family was hugely important, and that if they had been able to marry, many of their problems, insecurities, and uncertainties would have vanished, quelled by a marriage license.
"Being able to marry the person of your choice represents the security that comes from a public recognition and acceptance of that commitment and love," Vanessa said. "And it confirms, at a fundamental level, the rights each person has to make choices about who they are as a person and how they contribute to the future of humanity."
"Being able to marry is the opportunity to live to the fullest extent," Vanessa added. "It means that Kansas, a state whose motto is 'ad astra per aspera' (meaning to the stars through difficulties), honors every individual's choices and contributions necessary to reach the stars."
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Kendra and Vanessa now plan to take a trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts every year. They love the community, they love the beach, and they love revisiting the city where they shared such a special day with their "framily" and their son.
This summer, when the women were vacationing in Provincetown for their first wedding anniversary, they ran into the celebrant from their wedding last year, just outside of the Town Hall. That same week, the Department of the Treasury had announced its implementation of the June 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied legally married same-sex couples the federal protections of marriage. The Department of the Treasury and the IRS' announcement was momentous: Legally married same-sex couples, no matter where they live, would be considered married for all federal tax purposes.
"We started talking about that, and then I asked how many folks she married, and she said far more than last summer," Kendra said, explaining that the impact of the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA was felt far and wide across the country. "She said it was amazing and inspiring hearing so many of these people's stories - a gay couple from Kentucky married who were together for 33 years, a couple from Virginia who had been together for 31 years. And when she asked them why they were finally getting married after so many years together, they said that for them, finally, being married would mean something. That they would finally be recognized legally by the federal government, even if their state still refused them respect."
The Supreme Court ruling had an undeniable impact on gay and lesbian people across the country, but as they continue leading their lives in Topeka, Kansas, Kendra and Vanessa know that the country has a long road ahead before achieving a nationwide victory.
"DOMA was momentous, but somehow disappointing because I couldn't believe that was all we were afforded," Vanessa explained. She said that even though the DOMA ruling at the Supreme Court was an obvious victory on a federal level, progress in her home state has proceeded more slowly.
This year, for example, the City of Topeka approved an ordinance that enables the Human Relations Commission to provide education about non-heterosexual orientations in the hopes of preventing discrimination. The ordinance did not extend a protected class to people of different sexual orientations.
"To live in a state where something as simplistic as educating citizens that people - regardless of sexual orientation - are people is considered a major feat is sobering and demonstrates just how far we have to go," Vanessa said.
"We got this gift from the Supreme Court and the federal government," Kendra said about the DOMA ruling. "It's such a great step in the right direction, but it's not complete. Living in Kansas, we're reminded daily of just how far we have to go."
Kendra and Vanessa followed the Supreme Court rulings closely, and one of their most significant takeaways was a thought from Edith Windsor, the 84-year-old woman whose case struck the final blow to the central part of DOMA.
"Edith Windsor told reporters that her mantra for her decades-long relationship was , 'don't postpone joy,'" Vanessa said. "We've discovered the truth of her words. To postpone joy is to postpone living."
She, Vanessa, Rhett, and their entire "framily" are excited for the day that the Supreme Court next takes a marriage case and has the opportunity to declare that same-sex couples nationwide have the freedom to marry.
"We no longer wish to postpone the joy we experience as a family or as a couple," Vanessa said. "We no longer wish to postpone our lives."
Photography by Ken Doll Photography