This story was written by Knarquelya O'Neal, of Atlanta, Georgia, and was submitted to our Getting to "I Do" project on 3 December 2014. The original title is My Shining Starr.
Starr and I met through a mutual friend who was producing a web series on fashion, and he thought we’d be great as co-hosts. We connected instantly and developed a close friendship. I was drawn in by her genuine kindness and charismatic ways. She converses with everyone, makes people laugh, and kids and animals adore her. We started dating, and after several months she proposed! I had never felt so deeply, so sure about being in love with someone.
I was born and raised in Georgia. This is my home, and this is where I had always pictured myself getting married. The fact that Starr and I had to fly to another state to legally marry really bothered me. Even though we feel our love is as important as any other, I grow frustrated at each reminder that our home state does not recognize us as married. Unlike heterosexual couples, I cannot present my marriage certificate and have my name changed. I’d have to pay over $200 in court fees, and wait 30 days. And then there’s my mother.
My mother is traditionally southern and made sure our family went to church regularly. The religious tradition of marriage between a man and woman is all she knows. When I first told my mother that Starr and I were dating, she was strongly against it and still is. Although I am also a spiritual person, my mother and I differ in our faith and beliefs about sexual orientation. I understand that about her, and I make an effort to talk openly and respectfully to her about it. I would like for her to witness the love that Starr and I share, to spend the day with us and get to know us.
Even though we may still not have a meeting of the minds, I believe that if people like my mother and I could just spend time talking with each other, we would be more understanding and accepting of one another and have a meeting of our hearts.
Wedding day photos from Knarquelya O'Neal's personal collection.
I am not sure if I would be here talking about marriage for same-sex couples if I had not known my friend Darron for the last 15 years.
We met at a restaurant where we both worked while supporting ourselves through college. Darron is one of the most giving and forgiving people I have ever met. I saw him bend over backwards to help people, including family members who did not always do the same for him. Darron is just the kind of person who if you meet him, you love him.
Over time, I watched Darron manage to become comfortable in his gay identity. This was a tough feat for him because he came from a religious family who would have preferred to keep his sexuality a secret. He finally had everyone in his life accepting him for who he was and he had achieved a perfect balance between keeping his family comfortable and still being able to be himself. Life was good and we graduated, and he went on to become a nurse practitioner - a great field for him given his caring nature. The only thing missing was him finding the love of his life, which he always talked about. I could easily see him married as he had always been marriage-minded and was a loyal person.
About six years ago, I was so excited for him that he met Rich; they have been committed to each other ever since. Since then I have watched him endure again having to go the extra mile to work around other people’s discomfort with who he was. This time, he was trying to meet his personal goals of marriage, while having to work around legal obstacles.
For example, I watched he and his partner struggle to buy a house together, having to obtain expensive lawyers to craft paperwork that gives equal ownership of a house to two people who are not married, all the while knowing that if they could just be married the road to purchasing would already be paved for them. Darron and Rich have also had to struggle with other legal and personal liberties that most citizens take for granted, like putting each other on their health insurance, estate planning to leave financial security for each other through life insurance, and the list goes on. It breaks my heart to see Darron and Rich, who have been in a stable and productive relationship for the last seven years, be denied the marriage they so deserve.
Sometimes I get asked why I care so much about the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, when it does not directly affect me as a heterosexual woman. My personal motto has always been that you don’t have to be one to stand with one. From my work as a certified Franklin Covey diversity trainer, I learned that when a person is excluded, it makes them feel invisible. And we human beings have a basic need to be seen and counted by our peers.
I realize that I don’t always understand people and treat people as I would like, but I do try to understand people better and get to know where they are coming from.
I am grateful I did this with Darron and am excited to report that just as I was finishing this story, Darron and Rich got engaged! I look forward to the day that I can attend their wedding and celebrate with them!
Story by Renitta Shannon
First photo: Renitta and Darron
Second photo: MEUSA's Getting to I Do program on Cowbird - click image to learn about the program and to share your story!