Four Whatcom County couples who said they didn't think it would happen in their lifetime will be able to marry now that Washington state voters have approved same-sex unions.
"We cried. It felt like a validation after 25 years that the world is starting to change and the country is starting to change," said Lummi Island resident Di (pronounced Dee) Kegeles, who has been with her partner for 25 years.
Referendum 74's passage on Nov. 6 will make it possible for Kegeles to marry Cheryl Bachus.
Sky Hedman will wed Lynne Pharis. Jerri Bracken and Lynn Lyness will tie the knot, and so will Amory Peck and Linda Lambert.
The couples have been together for nearly two decades, as much as three. Some tried to marry in municipalities where same-sex marriage was legal - briefly as it turned out - only to be blocked.
And while they hugged and cried and celebrated voter approval of gay marriage in Washington state, they also said having their union recognized by the federal government was the next task.
The Whatcom County Auditor's Office will issue same-sex marriage licenses beginning Thursday, Dec. 6, when gay marriage goes into effect.
Here are the four couples' stories of heading down the aisle.
SKY HEDMAN AND LYNNE PHARIS
The Bellingham residents have been together 35 years.
They met in Kentucky in their 20s, when they were housemates with another woman. Their romance developed soon after.
A few years ago, they moved from Kentucky to Washington, partly because they could register as domestic partners here.
They will be married Dec. 15 at their house by one of the pastors at First Congregational Church of Bellingham.
When they tell people they will wed, the 64-year-old Pharis said, "they seem sincerely happy."
"We're not used to that kind of openness," Pharis said, noting that they moved from a part of the country that's not friendly to gays. "It's very refreshing."
The couple's views about marriage have evolved in their years together.
"We always said we didn't need the state to tell us we were married," said Hedman, 62.
That started to change when same-sex marriages became a possibility, specifically when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom started allowing gay couples to wed in San Francisco in 2004 in defiance of state law. Pharis remembered hearing touching interviews with gay couples on NPR at that time that helped change their minds.
"It brought forth that gay people in fact can have sustained, loving relationships," Pharis said. "And why shouldn't they be recognized?"
So they bought plane tickets for San Francisco, but same-sex marriages were legally blocked a few days before their appointment to be married in a civil ceremony.
"It was disappointing, yet not totally unexpected," Hedman said. "We knew that this was a rare opportunity for us to get married, and when we didn't get out there in time of course it was disappointing."
They went anyway, following through with their planned Celebration and Blessing of a Covenant in Grace Cathedral on March 29, 2004.
Nearly nine years later, they will be able to publicly and legally affirm their commitment to each other.
"That's important to us," Hedman said.
Hedman's 96-year-old mother will be at the wedding.
At first opposed to the idea of gay marriage, Hedman said her mother has changed her mind because of the influence of First Congregational Church, which is welcoming to gays.
Now, Hedman said, her mother is excited about the wedding.
JERRI BRACKEN AND LYNN LYNESS
Bracken and Lyness have been together 33 years.
They met at a Portland, Ore., bar in 1979, when Bracken had stopped in for a cup of coffee and Lyness for breakfast in one of the places where lesbians could meet back then.
Bracken, 66, and Lyness, 65, are in the midst of planning their Dec. 12 wedding at a friend's house, where they will be one of three lesbian couples getting married.
But it will not be their first marriage.
The first was symbolic and occurred April 1993 in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington for gay rights. Estimates of how many people were there ranged from 300,000 to 1 million.
"We were again wanting it to be known that a whole bunch of us wanted to get married," Bracken said, "and we should have been able to get married."
They tried to marry again March 4, 2004, in Portland when Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Soon after the announcement was made, Bracken and Lyness joined a couple of hundred other people in line for those licenses. The day was cold and rainy. Out on the street, protesters standing in a chain-link enclosure held up signs that among other things told them they would "burn in hell."
But supporters walked up and down the line of those waiting to get their marriage licenses, passing out flowers, cookies and cups of hot coffee.
They waited at least 21/2 hours and then were married on the courthouse steps by ministers who had volunteered to do so.
Afterward, the happy couple toasted each other with pints of beer and pizza at a nearby bistro. Other diners bought them dessert in celebration of their wedding.
Then gay marriage was blocked in the county, and about six months after their ceremony they received a letter in the mail that said they were no longer married.
They moved to Bellingham in August 2006 and registered as domestic partners in Washington state when it became available.
Next week, they will wed.
"We want to make a public statement," Bracken said.
"There's more of us than you think," Lyness added.
DI KEGELES AND CHERYL BACHUS
The Lummi Island residents have been together for 25 years, ever since meeting at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.
Several years ago, they registered as domestic partners in Washington.
Enacted in 2007, that law allowed domestic partners to have such rights as being able to visit a partner in the hospital, inheriting property and participating in medical care decisions.
Initially, Kegeles and Bachus weren't interested in marrying in other locations that had legalized gay marriage, such as San Francisco and British Columbia - wanting, ultimately, to wait until the federal government recognized same-sex unions.
"What we really need are the federal rights versus the state rights," Kegeles, 51, said.
Then, last year, they decided that having a ceremony for their 25th year together would be nice.
"It became important to us on an emotional level to celebrate our love in a public way," Kegeles said of marrying Bachus, 59.
Plus, the more same-sex couples marry at the state level, the more attention the federal government will have to pay attention to it, Kegeles reasoned, and that, maybe, could get federal laws changed.
Kegeles and Bachus plan to marry on Lummi Island in February.
AMORY PECK AND LINDA LAMBERT
One recent day after the Nov. 6 election, Linda Lambert was walking through Whatcom Community College, where she works, when she grabbed her partner's hand.
"We can get married," Lambert said to Peck.
And she'll be able to call Peck her wife, Lambert said.
Now living in Sudden Valley, the two met in 1991 at a library conference in Spokane and have been a couple since 1993.
They had a Holy Union ceremony in 1998, and they were the eighth couple in line at the Secretary of State's Office in Olympia to register as domestic partners on July 23, 2007 - the first day it became possible in Washington.
But what they dreamed of was being able to marry.
"We were never convinced that this would happen in our lifetime," Peck said.
"There's something sad and difficult to live through when the majority gets to vote on civil rights," Peck added. "It's hard to listen to the conversation, hard to listen to the debate."
The couple attends Garden Street United Methodist Church.
Their faith is important to them, they said, and while their denomination isn't accepting of homosexuality - calling it "incompatible with Christian teaching" - their local congregation is. (In the run-up to the election, Garden Street hung a banner on the outside of the church that read "People of Faith, Approve 74.")
They find "great joy" in their congregation and its support, and said their pastor, Cheryl Fear, will marry them.
"To us, that's a big deal," Peck said.
They plan to marry sometime next spring. They will both be 70.
The Whatcom County Auditor's Office will start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning Thursday, Dec. 6, the first day the state law legalizing gay marriage goes into effect.
The office in the County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave. Suite 103, will stay open longer for three days beginning Dec. 6. Extended hours will be:
- Thursday, Dec. 6: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Friday, Dec. 7: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 8: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Auditor's Office is the only place in Whatcom County where couples can get marriage licenses. Because Washington state has a three-day waiting period, couples who obtain their licenses on Dec. 6 can't marry until Dec. 9.
More information on applying for marriage licenses in Whatcom County is online at whatcomcounty.us/auditor/marriages.
Although the Whatcom County Auditor's Office issues marriage licenses, it doesn't perform marriages. Couples need to make other arrangements.
Some Whatcom County judges and commissioners conduct civil ceremonies. People can find them by going online to whatcomcounty.us/auditor/marriages and clicking on "List of Marriage Officials" on the left.
Ordained ministers or priests of any church or religious denomination also can marry same-sex couples, although the new law legalizing gay marriage in Washington doesn't mandate that they do so. Same-sex couples should ask at their place of worship.
Places of worship in Bellingham that are welcoming of same-sex couples include First Congregational Church of Bellingham; Garden Street United Methodist Church; Faith Lutheran Church; Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship; and Congregation Beth Israel.
Reach KIE RELYEA at email@example.com or call 715-2234.