This is What Equality Looks Like

Marriage equality arrives in Arizona, and in Pima County, it was a day all about new love and long-time commitment

Typically when two regular people marry, a bevy of news media doesn't descend on the nuptials unless they call themselves paparazzi and they make stealthily hiding in bushes part of their professional skillset.

However, last Friday, Oct. 17, if you happened to be a same-sex couple who walked out of the Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson with a manila envelope in hand, you were greeted by what was undoubtedly a show of support of marriage equality, with several local clergy easily identifiable and ready to marry anyone who wanted to make it completely official, right there in the breezeway for the world to see, along with sign-carrying supporters and about 10 polite but very intrusive reporters, photographers and cameramen waiting to capture every historical image.

After state after state had anti-same-sex marriage laws declared unconstitutional, Arizona that morning became the 32nd state to have a U.S. District Court judge rule its same law also unconstitutional. At that point, the only perceived holdup was the state.

Would state Attorney General Tom Horne appeal? Supposedly we wouldn't know until Monday, when Horne was expected to have a press conference. In what seemed like an uncharacteristic reality check at the Capitol up north, Horne's press conference was rescheduled to late Friday morning to announce there would be no appeal and that counties across the state could start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

Ready. Set. Go.

I call the Pima County Office of the Clerk, and the clerk who answers the phone says happily and breathlessly, "Yes, today, people can come down right now and get licenses. Isn't this exciting?," With phones ringing in the background, he has to go, dozens of people are calling asking the same thing, and "Can we come down today and get a marriage license?"

The county, in anticipation that a federal judge would soon overturn Arizona's anti-marriage equality law after the 9th Circuit ruled earlier in the month that similar laws in Idaho and Nevada were unconstitutional, had said it could have new licenses with spouse replacing husband and wife on new licenses printed up as soon as Monday, Oct. 20.

Now, with Horne's announcement, the old licenses were going to do just fine, and it was left to the couples to decide if they wanted to cross anything out on the document and if they wanted, at no additional charge beyond the initial $76 license fee, they could come in Monday and get a new license.

Standing in the middle of the breezeway is Owen Chandler, dressed in a formal black cassock with a long multi-colored stole around his neck going down his shoulders. He's a tall presence in the middle of what might be described as an impromptu wedding festival. He isn't alone. The senior minister of Saguaro Christian, a Disciples of Christ church on the eastside that recently decided to sign on to the affirming movement as LGBT inclusive, is accompanied by two of his associate ministers, Laurie Cleveland and Shelly Tilton.

Going in and out of the courthouse, dressed in a wide smile and purple sequined vest is Delle McCormick, senior minister at Rincon Congregational United Church of Christ. Her own multi-colored stole around her neck and down her shoulders is the only attire that identifies her as supporting clergy.

Also on the scene dressed with a long yellow stole around her neck and the initials UCC at each end is Diane Dowgiert, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, who is waiting for congregants to come out ready to marry in front of the crowd of assembled media.

McCormick comes out from the courthouse after a quick visit to the Pima County Office of the Clerk. Press have been asked to stay outside—both to respect peoples' privacy and to allow business to go on in the small service area on the main floor of the courthouse. She reports that there about four couples inside finishing the license paperwork, and a few of those couples are congregants of both McCormick and Dowgiert. More congregants are expected throughout the day.

Slowly, what's taking place outside the courthouse makes sense, as Chandler explains that he's there as a faith supporter from Why Marriage Matters, the Arizona marriage equality organization that formed last year as part of an organized legal effort readying itself to dismantle an amendment passed by voters in 2008 that limited marriage to being between only one man and one woman at a time when any federal ruling bringing marriage quality to Arizona seemed like a far-away dream.

Chandler says when the federal order was issued Friday morning, he received an email blast from Why Marriage Matters, asking that he and other supportive faith representatives go to the courthouse to show their support and yeah, to marry people.

"From my perspective, I grew up in Kentucky during the time of the Moral Majority," he says, adding that he saw examples of a Christian faith that didn't represent what he felt were the real teachings of Jesus. Marriage equality, he says, has grown into an important religious movement. He isn't expecting any congregants, but he and his associate pastors are hopeful they'll be asked and happy to just be there, they said.

Echoing her senior minister's experiences, Cleveland says she grew up in the Bible Belt and with a form of Christianity that even frowned on multi-racial couples. "We are called to love one another," she says. "that resonates with me." And it's what she tells people who still struggle accepting LGBT people or use the Bible to continue to defend their bigotry.

To these clergy that's it—that's why they are at the courthouse, carrying a sign "We Stand Ready To MARRY YOU!," and smiling and greeting everyone who comes out the courthouse doors.

McCormick confirms how it all came down this morning—marriage equality organizers and a faith arm that knew Friday could be the day, so the minister sent out an email Thursday evening to her congregation letting them know this could happen and she'd be there, ready to marry anyone.

"Why Marriage Matters asked all available clergy to be available at every courthouse across the state," McCormick says.

While everyone waits for more couples to come out of the courthouse, a woman and two high-school age girls show up, placing poster board on the ground writing on the posters with assorted colored markers. The woman is Kelly Frieders, a Sahuarita mother of triplets who actively campaigned in 2008 against former state Senator Tim Bee's work to get then-Proposition 102 on the ballot, the amendment that changed the definition of marriage in the state's constitution.

Frieders joked on Friday that back then she was the registered straight Christian Republican who used her politics to hopefully sway voters against voting for Bee's proposition. "I'm really disappointed. I'm really upset with the direction the Republican Party has gone. I'm a Republican because I believe in less government and being financially conservative. Seems to me Prop 102 is about more government, not less," Frieders told the Weekly back then (See "Familiar Feeling," Sept. 25, 2008).

This morning, Frieders says it feels like this moment is about coming full-circle, and she and her two daughters are there to "simply show their support."

McCormick enters the breezeway, out of her purple sparkly vest, wearing a long white vestment, she's preparing for two members of her congregation to arrive—Davin and Nancy Franklin-Hicks. The couple, while on the outside may not present themselves as a same-sex and by gender definitions they certain aren't, are an example of the different complexities and family units that exist and can benefit from marriage equality. In this case, Davin is a transgender man who has yet to legally change his gender-marker and while he is a man, according the state, his gender remains female.

On their way into the court house, the couple tells the Weekly that they've been together since 2002, and from their perspective are married after a commitment ceremony by their minister two years ago, but decided it was time to get a license to offer additional legal protections for the couple and their family.

But before the Franklin-Hicks come out with their license, Dowgiert is getting ready to marry two congregants who are outside with license in hand—71-year-old Robert Gordon and 66-year-old Stephen Kraynak. In fact today, Kraynak says, it is his birthday. The couple have been together 16 years.

"I've been waiting to say this all of my life,"' Dowgiert declares, the couple and their minster tightly surrounded by onlookers, supporters and press. "By the authority from the state of Arizona, I declare you spouse and spouse. You may kiss."

The couple, each holding a single rose, gingerly kiss as the crowd quietly watches and a few cry—it's a wedding after all.

Nearby are Pat Reddmann and Darcy Spears, a Tucson couple together 27 years who married in California last July. They decided to come down to the courthouse and be part of the festivities—bringing the single roses to hand out to each couple who left the courthouse with a marriage license, and two large boxes of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes to hand out.

The couple had a commitment ceremony in 2004 conducted by a UCC minister friend who moved to California. Their full-circle moment was having that same friend do their legal marriage in California last year, they say.

"There's still a long way to go. None of us are free until all of us are free," says Spears, adding economic and immigration inequality still exists. "There are young LGBT in detention right now, undocumented, who face persecution if they return home."

There remains work to do, she says, still smiling widely as each couple comes out, handing a rose or cupcake and her wife doing the same.

Nearby another couple is marrying, Mike Greenbaum, 76 and Chuck Gould, 68. Gould is shyly smiling at everyone surrounding them. The long-time couple, together since 1970, were the second couple to marry outside. Everyone tried to be respectful of the multiple wedding spaces taking place, but one time, even McCormick had to yell out that a black pen was needed so witnesses could sign a license. A nearby photographer and reporter offered up his pen. It was that kind of day—everyone taking part in what was before them and even reporters cooperatively going from couple to couple once vows were exchanged and licenses signed.

From the corner of everyone's eyes during the festivities, U.S. Congressman Ron Barber could be seen walking toward the breezeway. Once there, he milled around from couple to couple, offering congratulations, as well as taking the time to witness their ceremonies and sign their licenses. Several took him up on the offer.

While the Franklin-Hicks said their vows, Barber was with Chandler, who was finally asked to perform a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple, pleased to be there with Barber and a beaming Chandler, happy to finally perform his first wedding of the day.

At that point there were three ceremonies taking place at one time, and the press were having difficulty figuring out which group to witness, their importance or just, in reality, how to clone themselves from group to group. It was, to editorialize here, an amazing moment that was sincerely beautiful—a true Tucson moment taking place right there and everyone watching seemed to recognize that very fact, tears or no tears.

Another couple, Bob Hankinson and George Adam, were wed, with Bob recalling when he first bought the rings they wore, 27 years ago in the jewelry department at Mervyn's—a stunned store clerk had difficulty breathing when she realized she was being asked to size rings for two men and rushed to find another clerk to help.

One example of where everyone was back then, the notion of two people of the same sex being in a loving and committed relationship, and now, Hankinson explains, being legally married will offer huge financial relief for the couple in terms of health insurance and taxes, further protections as they get older.

At the Franklin-Hicks wedding across the way, surrounded by their children and a friend or two, the couple reminds each other that in reality, being together 14 years that they committed to each other 12 years ago. "This is just a paper," Davin says, yet the co-chair of Tucson's GLBT City Commission adds that it reminds him that Nancy makes him a better person.

Holding hands throughout, Nancy says, "I stand here with all the ancestors behind us, all the men and women over the years," who were never able to be recognized as a couple. Tears lightly well up in her eyes.

Getting ready to head out to return to additional campaign activities, Barber tells the Weekly that he heard licenses were going to be given out in Pima County this morning while he was in a Sierra Vista, meeting with the town newspaper's editorial board.

"I wanted to be here to congratulate couples," Barber says, those couples who are making the same kind of commitment he and his wife made 47 years ago. "I wasn't surprised by the court's decision ... but it was a very wise decision by the state Attorney General to not appeal. If he did, it would have been a waste of taxpayers' money."

Merlin Spillers and Lee Roden, together since 1969, had earlier walked through the breezeway with bright smiles on their faces, saying hello to everyone as they passed, wearing brightly colored tennis shirt—pink and green. After taking their wedding vows, Spillers recalled their early life in Santa Cruz, Calif., when they had what was the community's first LGBT commitment ceremony.

The local newspaper wasn't considered very LGBT friendly, so Spillers went to the office and talked to the editor. The week-of their commitment ceremony things changed in Santa Cruz, they said, and it started with a huge story about their ceremony. "We were told we helped save lives," he says.

Barber wasn't the only politician showing up that morning. State Rep. Stephanie Mach was there, dressed in a black business suit and white blouse, ready to marry her long-time friend Dustin Cox to his partner Aaron Singleton. Mach says it was all a last-minute but festive decision—with Cox asking her to officiate that morning and Mach getting on the Universal Life Church website to register as a wedding officiant.

It all came together, she says, tears in her eyes explaining why it was important for her to be there for her friends. "Truth is, it doesn't matter, two people who love each other" shouldn't have to be prevented from making a legal commitment to one another, LGBT or not, she says.

Love is love—the theme of the day in every way, people continued to explain, telling stories to media and anyone who'd listen on how they met, what this meant to them and how happy they were that marriage equality was indeed now in Arizona.

One of the last couples to marry that afternoon as most of the press left to file their marriage equality stories of the day, Eric Kaldahl and Jeff Owens, both dressed in suits, had planned to travel to San Diego that weekend to get married. They decided to marry in Arizona at the courthouse and travel to San Diego to celebrate. Yes, they are going to Disneyland on the way.

"It's a very happy and unexpected day," Owens says, smiling wide.

Chandler, sitting on a nearby bench, taking in a moment during an obvious lull in the activity, sits with a leg crossed over, revealing U.S. Army fatigues and boots under his cassock. Yes, he's a chaplain, in the reserves, he says. He's now done three weddings since he arrived in the morning, his two other associate pastors doing two others, including a straight wedding.

He's the lone clergy hold-out now, ordering pizza for everyone still there. Even most of the media are gone. The breezeway entrance is being closed and everyone is asked to move to the east entrance off Church Avenue. The clerk's office plans to stay open until 9 p.m. allowing people to get licenses and more and more people arrive.

On my way to a community rally at Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church that evening, Chandler is standing at the top of the court steps with a family before him—two men, dressed for the occasion. One father, is tenderly holding his young daughter in a dress that goes over his arm. Between the dads stand their young son, dressed in a suit, everyone smiling.

These are the steps of foreclosure hearings. These are the steps where people come for court procedures—both happy and sad. At that moment, these are Chandler's steps and steps that for the first time in many years, lead to marriage equality in Pima County.

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