On May 23, 1999, Mark Holbert and Allen Arrington set off on the flight that they would never forget - the flight where they met for the very first time, felt a deep connection, and changed each other's lives for ever.
On the 45-minute trip from Knoxville, Tenn. to St. Louis, Miss., Mark and Allen were randomly seated next to each other. They spent the entire flight talking about their lives, feeling an instant familiarity: Mark was in Knoxville visiting his family, Allen was in Tennessee for meetings for his architecture firm. The conversation flew by, the flight ended too quickly, and when the men said goodbye - Mark was headed for a connecting flight home to Chicago, Allen had a layover before heading to Phoenix, Arizona - they exchanged numbers and email addresses.
"This was back when chatting online just became popular - back when AOL was still a thing," Mark laughed. "We started talking and getting to know each other better, and very quickly, I decided that I should just go out there. When I came out here, being together just felt right. So I decided to take a leap of faith."
Mark took some time off, and on a whim flew to visit Allen in Phoenix. "I wanted see if this was what I thought it was going to be," he said. "And it ended up being exactly what I thought it was." Allen greeted Mark at the airport with flowers, they hugged, and very quickly, they began to fall in love.
When Mark returned to Chicago, he and Allen had already made a commitment to each other, and Mark's trip home was only long enough for him to put his house on the market, put in his two week's notice at his job, load up a moving truck, and relocate his life to Phoenix.
Mark and Allen have been together ever since - fifteen years and counting.
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Despite their 15 years of love and commitment, Mark and Allen aren't married. In Arizona, same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry, and the couple wants to marry at home in Arizona.
"We've talked about marriage a lot," Mark explained. "But we want to get married in Arizona. This is where we live. Every member of Allen's family lives here, and with his mother's health declining recently, it's more important than ever that we're here. We've contemplated going over to California and getting married, and then coming back to Arizona." But Mark and Allen know that because of Arizona's constitutional amendment restricting marriage to different-sex couples, the state will not respect their marriage and will view them as legal strangers.
Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied legally married same-sex couples the federal protections triggered by marriage, Mark and Allen said they're more likely to consider marrying outside of Arizona. As more federal programs are extended to married couples living in any state - even states without the freedom to marry - the men say that being respected as married by the federal government could have a real impact.
Still, Mark and Allen - and couples in the 37 states where same-sex couples cannot marry - wish the ruling on DOMA went further.
"The Supreme Court decision was a good decision," Mark said. "But it could have been a greater decision if they passed marriage in every state. I live in Arizona, so the ruling didn't impact me as much as it could have."
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Mark and Allen have seen again and again why couples marry, but no relationship in their life is most closely parallel to their own life together: Mark has an identical twin brother who has been married to a woman for 16 years, and they live in Mark's home state of Tennessee. The path of Mark and Allen's relationship has followed closely with the road that Mark's brother and his wife have taken.
The difference, of course, is that Mark and Allen are not able to marry. "When my brother is describing his relationship, he can always refer to 'my wife,' and that's somewhat taken for granted," Mark said. "I can't do that. I can't say 'my husband.' I'm so sick of using the word 'partner' - I'd rather use 'husband,' since that's what we are. We've been together for 15 years. Everything is in both of our names. It should be that way."
Mark and Allen - and thousands of couples across the state of Arizona - want to marry for many of the same reasons that couples like Mark's brother and wife do: They love each other, they are committed to each other, and they want their dedication to be respected by their community and by their government.
"It would be so liberating to see Arizona pass the freedom to marry," Mark said. "Marriage would provide us with that legal recognition we need," Mark said. "That justification that our relationship is just as important as any other couple's."