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

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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.

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