UPDATED May 2014: Since Arlis & Jamon shared their story with Freedom to Marry, a circuit judge in Arkansas ruled in favor of the freedom to marry. Hundreds of couples tied the knot in the first week of marriages, but the ruling is now on hold pending appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Arlis Young and Jamon Baker both can pinpoint the moment that they knew they loved each other: It was December 6, 2012, the first anniversary since the untimely passing of Arlis' younger sister, and Jamon was determined to ensure that Arlis had an easy, comforting day.
The men had become close in the last year, building a friendship in their city of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
"He came over for dinner that night, and looking back at it, that's the point where we really made things concrete," Jamon said. "That was such an emotionally challenging day for him to deal with, and I think that was when he saw that I would be there to comfort him, to stand beside him and make things a little easier for him."
Over the next few months, Jamon and Arlis grew closer than ever, falling in love and truly becoming members of each others' families. Jamon was introduced to Arlis' nephew Tanner (now two years old) and bonded with Arlis' sister and niece. They moved into their home together in May 2013. And in November, Arlis proposed.
The men now plan to marry on August 16, 2014, with a reception in Fort Smith, Arkansas. They'll then travel to a state with the freedom to marry to receive a legal marriage license - "Thanks to the end of DOMA, that will make a difference even in Arkansas," Arlis explained.
"Marriage adds a sense of peace for us," Arlis said. "We know that if Arkansas had the freedom to marry, we would not be questioned as a couple. We could both be legal parents to a child - we could live a more secure life. It's very sad to us that the place we love and choose to call home tells us that we cannot legally be married."
Arlis and Jamon know that it's not always easy to live as an engaged same-sex couple in the South - Arlis is a life-long Arkansan, and Jamon was raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma - but they know that it's important for them to stay. It's important for them to encourage conversation in their state about why marriage matters to same-sex couples like them.
"It's important to be visible to give other people the strength to do so, too," Jamon said. "To let other people know that they're not alone in the views they have, to help people find their voice and raise their hand and say, 'Yes, we want this to happen in our state.'"
More importantly, Arlis and Jamon like living in Arkansas - it is their home, and they know that if they continue speaking out about their love, commitment, and marriage, the things they don't like about Arkansas - namely, the laws that preclude same-sex couples from marrying and adopting - can change.
"I have roots here," Jamon said. "Even though I was born in Oklahoma, I call Arkansas my home. I've been here for 18 years. I love this area. I love the people in this area. People aren't disposable, and neither are homes - so I can't just give them up."
"Just because I don't like the way the laws are structured in my state doesn't mean I can't have faith that things will change," he continued. "I just don't give up easily. We have a great community here, and I look forward to having my rights as a same-sex couple. I look forward to change. I have such great hopes that things will continue to change for the better."