UPDATED November 2013: Since Christopher & William shared their story with Freedom to Marry, same-sex couples in Hawaii won the freedom to marry when the Hawaii Legislature ruled in favor of marriage in November 2013.
This summer, Christopher Frendreis and Dr. William Coleman, who have been married for nearly five years, have been celebrating the year’s big marriage victories at the Supreme Court, which restored the freedom to marry in California and struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But even though Chris (pictured, right) and Will (pictured, left) legally married in California and now share in all the federal protections of marriage, they know that their relationship is still not granted legal respect in Hawaii, where they live now. As Freedom to Marry surges forward to win the freedom to marry in more states as we work toward a national resolution, it’s stories of couples like Chris and Will that keep the momentum going.
Chris and Will met more than ten years ago in Denver at a dance club called La Rumba. The club hosted gay-friendly parties on Fridays, and Chris was a regular, driving in on the weekends from a town three hours away. One night Will showed up with three of his best friends, and he and Chris immediately hit it off. They were inseparable for the rest of the night. “We danced all night and his girlfriends went home reminding me that if I was driving home, I had ‘precious cargo’ on board,” Chris said. The following week, they went camping for three days in Moab together, and by then, they both knew something special had begun.
Shortly after the camping trip, Will and Chris began building their relationship, getting to know each other better and meeting each other’s friends. They kept a long-distance relationship running between Steamboat and Denver – which are about three hours away from each other – for six years. The commitment that they shared through both the good times and the bad cemented their feelings for one another. “We had found love,” Chris explained.
Chris proposed to Will one day while they enjoyed a helicopter tour during a trip to Hawaii, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. They married at San Francisco City Hall in 2008 on the last day of October – just four days before the passage of Proposition 8, which stripped same-sex couples in California of the freedom to marry. After the ceremony, they enjoyed a small celebration with eight close friends, including Chris’ best friend, who hosted them in CA and was the first person he’d ever come out to.
After spending so much time apart for so many years in Colorado, Will and Chris finally brought an end to their long-distance run in 2009 when they moved in together in Honolulu. Shortly after moving in, they had a bigger celebration of their commitment with 60 friends and family who stayed with them in Oahu for a week. “It was an epic celebration of life and love,” Chris said.
For the past four years, William and Chris have lived together in Hawaii, and in that time, they’ve wasted no time in founding Hawaii’s first 24-hour Emergency + Specialty Referral Veterinary Center, which is thriving in its second year. Will is the president and head of emergency medicine, while Chris serves as the hospital director, overseeing 32 employees and countless happy clients.
“We are perfectly happy as two married gay men,” Chris said. “We love being married and can't imagine our lives without each other.” They enjoy traveling, entertaining, hosting and attending parties, and spending time together.
The Supreme Court’s historic rulings in June had a deep personal impact on Chris and Will. “Having a way to quantify your commitment to the person you love is important,” Chris said, adding that ensuring the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples would give hope to young gay youth who are looking forward to their future – just as it continues to give hope to him and Will. “It so happens that we are gay, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we are married,” he said.
Despite the fact that they are legally married in California and now have federal respect for their marriage, their home state of Hawaii continues to deny them the full respect of their marriage. It’s a familiar position for Chris and William: Just as their marriage faced uncertainty after Proposition 8 passed in California, it faces uncertainty again now that DOMA has still not been fully repealed.
Same-sex couples in Hawaii can currently join together in civil union – a lesser form of family status – but with DOMA on its last legs, it’s now more apparent than ever why civil union is not enough: Although it grants couples some of the protections and responsibilities of marriage at the state level, it does not allow them to access hardly any of the federal protections of marriage.
“Civil unions are not what we’re fighting for,” Chris pointed out. “Marriage is what we’re fighting for. Full unquestionable equality is what we are fighting for. Our marriage is as strong and real as any - and to label it and treat it as anything else is discriminatory and compromising of our fundamental equality as human beings.”