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!
And then there were three.
Just a few weeks ago, there were five states either without marriage equality or without an active lawsuit for equal marriage rights. But the pace of change continues to accelerate with the filing of a new case for equality in Georgia, and the announcement that South Dakota will be next.
That will leave only three states—Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota—without either marriage equality or marriage lawsuits for the time being. Yet even Alaska’s Supreme Court just issued a unanimous ruling in favor of equal treatment for same-sex couples under Alaskan tax law. In its decision, the Court articulated that “[m]any same-sex couples are … just as truly closely relat[ed] and closely connected as any married couple, in … providing the same level of love, commitment, and mutual economic and emotional support … and would … get married if they were not prohibited by law from doing so.”
You could almost hear former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin exclaiming, “I can see equality from my backyard!”
Equality is also in the backyard of the couples who are stepping forward to challenge South Dakota’s marriage ban. They are marrying in nearby marriage equality states—Minnesota (where the Mayor of Minneapolis is performing one of their weddings) and Iowa (which recently celebrated 5 years of marriage equality since the Iowa Supreme Court’s historic ruling in 2009)—and then challenging South Dakota’s refusal to recognize their marriages.
Ten years ago, during San Francisco’s Winter of Love that brought marriage licenses to over 4,000 same-sex couples in City Hall, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist famously accused San Francisco of igniting a “wildfire” that was “likely to spread through all 50 states.” With equality or active lawsuits in 47 states, Bill Frist’s prediction is coming to pass today. Even deep in the heart of Texas, equality is advancing in unexpected ways as another judge just ruled that a lesbian couple’s divorce case could proceed because the Texas ban on recognizing such unions was unconstitutional. And Bill Frist may have known best when he said, “Recent court rulings have created a legal domino effect.”
It’s interesting to read these words today knowing that the tide has turned. When Mike Huckabee recently addressed the topic of whether he was on the “wrong side of history,” he said, “I’m not against anybody; I’m really not. I’m not a hater. I’m not homophobic. I honestly don’t care what people do personally in their individual lives.” We’ll let you decide whether he doth protest too much. While Gavin Newsom’s comment “whether you like it or not” may not have been well-timed, he did point out a conundrum for those who are against the freedom to marry: seeing historic change happening before their eyes, they have a choice to rage against it, or to embrace our common humanity. We know which side we’d rather be on.
In the meantime, the countdown to equality nationwide continues.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, May 1, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/countdown-to-equality/
Policy & Legal UpdatesMarch 17 – 23, 2014
- PENNSYLVANIA • On 3 March 2014, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,405 registered PA voters regarding same-gender civil marriage, and reported that 57% support it, 37% oppose it, and 6% don’t know or don’t answer. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
- On 26 April 2013, U.S. Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL) introduced the Equitable Access to Care and Health Act (HR-1814), which would excuse a citizen from the federal law requiring the purchase of health insurance whenever that citizen claims a religious belief, and on 6 May 2013, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced the Senate version (S. 862). On 11 March 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives skipped Committee review, and passed HR-1814 on a voice-only vote. Lawmakers favoring it include 226 Representatives (145 Republican, 81 Democrat), and 32 Senators (16 Republican, 15 Democrat, 1 Independent). Based on history, the chance of enactment is 24%. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 7 March 2014, in Cleopatra De Leon, et al., v. TX Governor Rick Perry et al.,a federal class action lawsuit for all TX couples challenging the 2003 law and the 2005 TX constitutional ban on marriage inside and outside TX, the preliminary injunction against the TX same-gender civil marriage bans while the district court case is proceeding was appealed by TX to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and the district court case proceedings were stayed pending the appeal ruling. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 12 March 2014, in Shannon Zahrn, et al. v. TX Governor Rick Perry, et al., a federal class action suit seeking equal marriage rights for all TX couples, and challenging the TX statutory and constitutional bans on same-gender civil marriage, TX asked the court to stay proceedings in this case pending the outcome at the 5th Circuit of Cleopatra De Leon, et al., v. TX Governor Rick Perry et al. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 12 March 2014, in Christopher McNosky, et al. v. TX Governor Rick Perry, et al., a federal class action suit seeking equal marriage rights for all TX couples, and challenging the TX statutory and constitutional bans on same-gender civil marriage, TX asked the court to stay proceedings in this case pending the outcome at the 5th Circuit of Cleopatra De Leon, et al., v. TX Governor Rick Perry et al. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 18 February 2014, In the Matter of the Marriage of A.L.F.L. and K.L.L., Allison Leona Flood Lesh and Kristi Lyn Lesh filed for divorce and child custody. A hearing is scheduled for 20 March 2014. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TENNESSEE • On 18 March 2014, in Valeria Tanco, et al. v. TN Governor William Haslam, et al., a constitutional challenge to the TN law that bans recognition of same-gender civil marriages, the TN attorney general: (1) asked for a stay of the injunction requiring TN to recognize the civil marriages of 3 same-gender couples, and (2) notified the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that TN is appealing the order requiring recognition of marriages made elsewhere. On 20 March 2014, the court denied the state’s request. • MEUSA Summary • News Source KENTUCKY • On 20 March 2014, in Timothy Love, et al. v. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (formerly Gregory Bourke & Michael De Leon, et al. v. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear), a federal lawsuit challenging KY’s ban on recognizing same-gender couples married elsewhere, the court stayed enforcement of its final order (requiring KY to recognize marriages performed elsewhere) pending the outcome from the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Briefing on the intervening couples’ claims is slated to finish by 28 May 2014. • MEUSA Summary • News Source WISCONSIN • On 20 March 2014, in Virginia Wolf & Carol Schumacher, et al., v. WI Governor Scott Walker, et al., a federal lawsuit for 4 couples challenging the 2006 WI ban on same-gender civil marriage or civil union, and WI’s unique ban on marrying elsewhere, for which each spouse faces up to $10,000 in fines and 9 months in prison as soon as they return to WI, WI DoJ claimed that existing mixed-gender marriage rights don’t include same-gender marriage rights, and asked that the case be dismissed. • MEUSA Summary • News Source ARKANSAS • The case of Kendall Wright, et al. v. AR Governor Michael Beebe, et al., in which 21 same-gender couples challenge the 2004 AR constitutional ban on same-gender civil marriage, the state law banning same-gender civil marriage, the federal law allowing states to ignore same-gender marriages from other states, and recognition of parental rights, birth certificate names, insurance, and other benefits, is scheduled for oral argument on 17 April 2014. • MEUSA Summary • News Source VIRGINIA • On 20 March 2014, in Timothy Bostic, et al. vs. VA 4th Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, et al., a federal lawsuit challenging VA’s 2006 ban on same-gender marriage, and out-of-state marriage recognition, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals confirmed the hearing of oral arguments on 13 May 2014 from attorneys for the original plaintiffs, assisted by attorneys from Lambda Legal and ACLU (in Joanne Harris, et al. vs. VA State Registrar Janet Rainey, et al., a certified class action case). • MEUSA Summary • News Source MICHIGAN • On 21 March 2014, in April DeBoer & Jayne Rowse v. MI Governor Rick Snyder, et al.,a challenge to the state’s 2004 ban on same-gender marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, and joint adoption, the court: (1) overturned the law and constitutional amendment that banned same-gender civil marriage in MI, (2) said that MI testimony calling same-gender parents inferior was "entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration," and (3) said that no available science contradicts the consensus that same-gender and mixed-gender couples are equally good at parenting. • MEUSA Summary • News Source MICHIGAN • On 22 March 2014, in April DeBoer & Jayne Rowse v. MI Governor Rick Snyder, et al.,a challenge to the state’s 2004 ban on same-gender marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, and joint adoption, officials in at least 5 counties married over 300 county-resident, same-gender couples until 5:00 p.m., when the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay, effective through Tuesday, 26 March 2014. • MEUSA Summary • News Source HAWAI'I • On 19 March 2014, in Natasha Jackson, et al., v. Governor Neil Abercrombie, et al., a marriage rights case, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals requested an opening brief by 25 April 2014, an answering brief by 27 May 2014, and an optional reply brief 14 days after delivery of the answering brief. Lawamkers legalized same-gender civil marriage in 2013, but the court still wants to ensure an orderly disposition of the appeal for future reference. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source SOUTH DAKOTA • By 14 March 2014, SB-128 (which would legalize religion-based discrimination against LGBT people in 4 settings: (1) employment; (2) public accommodation; (3) commercial services; and (4) state courts) died in the 2014 SD legislature, after a 5-to-2 vote by the SD Senate Judiciary Committee defeated it. • MEUSA Summary • News Source CALIFORNIA • On 14 March 2014, CA initiative #13-0014 (which would exempt a citizen from any law that conflicts with that citizen’s religious bible-based beliefs, and would modify the CA constitution to protect religious expression even when it violates peace and safety) failed to collect 807,615 valid signatures for the November 2014 ballot. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
Send questions and comments to: NFlaherty@MarriageEquality.org.
Policy & Legal UpdatesDecember 9 – 15, 2013
- On 12 December 2013, U.S. Senator Mike Lee introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act(House #3133, Senate #1808), which would legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals, couples, and their children by governments, businesses, hospitals, and individuals. Lawmakers favoring it include 12 Senators (11 Republicans, 1 Democrat). Based on history, the chance of enactment is 1%. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source PENNSYLVANIA • On 9 December 2013, in Cara Palladino & Isabelle Barker v. PA Governor Corbett et al., a couple suing to get PA to recognize their 2005 MA marriage, PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane sought to be dismissed as a defendant because her office was not involved in violating the plaintiffs’ rights. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 11 December 2013, in Cleopatra De Leon, et al., v. TX Governor Rick Perry et al.,a federal class action lawsuit for all TX couples challenging the 2005 TX constitutional ban on marriage inside and outside TX, the judge agreed to hear the case starting 12 February 2014. • MEUSA Summary • News Source ARKANSAS • On 12 December 2013, in Kendall Wright et al. v. AR Governor Michael Beebe, et al.,11 same-gender couples challenging the 2004 AR constitutional ban on same-gender civil marriage, the state law banning same-gender civil marriage, and the federal law allowing states to ignore same-gender marriages from other states, and also seeking parental rights, birth certificate names, insurance, and other benefits, asked that oher couples be allowed to marry during the suit, and defendants for Faulkner County and AR asked that the suit be dismissed, after which the judge gave no indication of when or how he might rule. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS & MISSISSIPPI • On 13 December 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed that MS had stopped discriminating, and that all 50 states deliver all benefits to same-gender spouses of Army National Guard personnel (active duty, dependents, retired). IN and WV accept applications from and issue cards to everyone, but GA, LA, MS, and TX use only federal workers to enroll applicants and issue ID cards, and FL, OK, and SC moved the equipment to federal property, forcing all couples to travel longer distances. • MEUSA Summary • News Source NEW MEXICO • By 13 December 2013, 60% of NM residents were living in 8 of the 33 counties (Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Grant, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, San Miguel, Taos, Valencia) that were issuing marriage licenses, and over 1,700 same-gender couples had married. Out of 7 NM lawsuits in 2013, 0 were defeats for marriage equality, 3 were victories for equality, and 4 remain pending, 1 of which is about to be decided by the NM Supreme Court. • MEUSA Summary • News Source MICHIGAN • On 13 December 2013, in April DeBoer & Jayne Rowse v. MI Governor Rick Snyder, et al., in a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s 2004 ban on same-gender marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, and joint adoption, the defendants asked that the trial not be split into 2 parts: (1) constitutionality of marriage/adoption laws; and (2) deciding what scrutiny level is required when judging laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation, and asked the court to ignore which level of judicial scrutiny applies to laws that discriminate against same-gender couples. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source FLORIDA • On 12 December 2013, the Pensacola City Council approved several important domestic partner rights, joining at least 14 FL cities and counties representing 50% of FL residents. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source PENNSYLVANIA • On 11 December 2013, the Why Marriage Matters Pennsylvania campaign was launched by Freedom to Marry and ACLU of Pennsylvania. • MEUSA Summary • News Source COLORADO • On 9 December 2013, Public Policy Polling surveyed 928 CO voters (including 355 usual Republican primary voters) about same-gender civil marriage, and reported that 53% favor it, 39% oppose it, with 8% unaccounted for. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
Send questions and comments to: NFlaherty@MarriageEquality.org.
Policy & Legal UpdatesNovember 18 – 24, 2013
MEUSA Summary • News Source TENNESSEE • On 19 November 2013, in Valeria Tanco, et al. v. TN Governor William Haslam et al.,National Center for Lesbian Rights attorneys representing 4 legally married, same-gender couples asked a federal court for immediate protection of their families while their lawsuit challenging the TN marriage ban proceeds. • MEUSA Summary • News Source HAWAII • On 15 November 2013, in McDermott v. Abercrombie, a state judge denied Republican state Representative Bob McDermott's request for a Temporary Restraining Order, allowed same-gender civil marriages to start on 2 December 2013, and did not rule on the underlying case about the meaning of a 15-year old, marriage-related constitutional amendment, which is proceeding. • MEUSA Summary • News Source ARKANSAS • On 7 November 2013, in John Moix v. Libby Moix, the AR Supreme Court considered reversing a county judge’s restriction barring John Moix, represented by ACLU Arkansas, from letting his gay partner stay overnight when John’s son is visiting. On 21 November 2013, the AR Supreme Court ruled in favor of John Moix, and halted the statewide policy of always banning child visitation with any parent who lives with an unmarried partner, regardless of individual circumstances. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 22 November 2013, Army National Guard Bureau General Frank Grass, under orders from Secretary of Defene Chuck Hagel, met with state generals and notified them that all service members and spouses must receive 100% of the federally funded ID cards and federally funded benefits that they have earned, regardless of any state-level bans on same-gender civil marriage. • MEUSA Summary • News Source PENNSYLVANIA • On 22 November 2013, in Deb & Susan Whitewood v. PA Governor Tom Corbett et al., a federal lawsuit by 23 people challenging the 1996 PA law that bans same-gender marriage for residents, and that ignores out-of-state same-gender marriages, the judge rejected a request to delay the case, and set a trial date of 9 June 2014, but the former state Supreme Court justice defending the state said he is appealing the district court’s refusal to dismiss the case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. • MEUSA Summary • News Source WEST VIRGINIA • On 22 November 2013, in Casie Jo McGee, et al. v. Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole, et al., a federal lawsuit for three couples challenging the state law that bans marriage equality, the WV Attorney General announced that he will defend the WV ban on same-gender civil marriage. • MEUSA Summary • News Source FLORIDA • On 22 November 2013, in John Becker v. University of Central Florida, FL hired former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Wells to fight the release of over 50,000 public records related to the publication of a widely discredited, anti-LGBT parenting study. Also, Judge Donald Grincewicz who had handled the case since its start in spring 2013, inexplicably recused himself from further involvement, and an appellate court granted a stay in the case until a replacement judge is appointed. The study is cited more often than any other by anti-LGBT groups worldwide, and the author is scheduled to testify in February that children of same-gender parents are less successful than children of mixed-gender parents inApril DeBoer & Jayne Rowse v. MI Governor Rick Snyder, et al. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source ILLINOIS • On 20 November 2013, in Chicago, IL, at a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln, Governor Quinn signed a bill that upgrades the civil union law to a full marriage equality law, while at a cathedral in Springfield, IL, Bishop Thomas Paprocki condemned equality, called same-gender marriage a grave, demonic, evil sin, and publicly performed an official Roman Catholic Exorcism (2004 Latin Edition) to cast Satan out of Illinois. • MEUSA Summary • News Source TEXAS • On 20 November 2013, Houston, TX began issuing life/health insurance to legally married same-gender spouses of municipal employees, per the city attorney’s legal opinion that it is unconstitutional to deny equal protection under the law. • MEUSA Summary • News Source GEORGIA • On 4 August 2013, Public Policy Polling surveyed 520 Georgia voters on same-gender civil marriage, and reported that 32% support it, 60% oppose it, and 9% are unsure. Separately, 28% of voters support full marriage, 29% support civil unions only, 39% oppose all legal recognition, and 3% are unsure. • MEUSA Summary • News Source GEORGIA • On 23 September 2013, Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper surveyed 801 Georgia adults about same-gender civil marriage, and reported that 48% favor it, 43% oppose it, and 9% don’t know or do not answer. • MEUSA Summary • News Source KENTUCKY • On 21 November 2013, Lexington, KY joined Berea, Louisville, and Covington when the Urban County Council voted unanimously to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
MEUSA Summary • News Source OREGON • On 19 November 2013, Nike created the Nike Equality Political Action Committee, a foundation that raises funds to help Oregon United For Marriage upgrade civil unions to full equality at the ballot box in November 2014. The company and its executives already donated $280,000. • MEUSA Summary • News Source OREGON • On 21 November 2013, two anti-LGBT organizations (Friends of Religious Freedom, Oregon Family Council) filed a ballot measure to legalize discrimination against same-gender couples seeking commercial wedding services whenever the discriminators use religion as their excuse. If the wording is approved by state officials, the sponsors would have to gather 87,213 valid signatures to get the measure on the November 2014 ballot. • MEUSA Summary • News Source
Send questions and comments to: NFlaherty@MarriageEquality.org.