Gay and lesbian couples share their wedding stories
The women were among the 43 same-sex couples (as of July 16) who have gotten marriage licenses in Marion County since the May 19 ruling that overturned the state's 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. In all of Oregon, 464 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses as of July 11.
For Barb and Lisa, who have spent the past 12 years together, the ruling was, in a sense, a surprise gift from Oregon just five days before their wedding that had been in the works since the previous fall.
Before the amendment banning such marriages in Oregon was ruled unconstitutional, the plan was that the couple would drive to Washington on May 20, which legalized same-sex marriage in December of 2012, to get a marriage license. Then, after returning to Salem for the required three-day waiting period, they would cross the border again and do a quick, small, legal ceremony in the morning.
Lisa's dad, Ward Hill, a retired minister, would accompany them and officiate, and then they would all drive back for a full ceremony and reception with friends and family at the Grand Ballroom in downtown Salem.
The border-crossing plan, however, ended up not being necessary.
A long wait
Barb and Lisa, 54 and 49 respectively, both work for the Oregon Department of Corrections, which is how they met in 1990. They quickly became friends, but it wasn't until 2002 that they decided to get together romantically. Soon after that, they bought a home together.
"We knew from the moment we started seeing each other, this is it," Barb said.
In 2004, when Multnomah County briefly issued marriage licenses, they watched as friends went to Portland to get married. But the women decided they wouldn't marry until it would be federally recognized.
They said they wanted the same rights as heterosexual married couples, such as being able to file joint taxes or make sure their spouse would receive the other's Social Security benefits if one were to die.
"We felt until equal in the eyes of the federal government, we weren't going to do anything," Barb said.
"We did not believe it would be in our lifetime," Lisa added.
But that day came June 26, 2013, when the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court.
"When it became federally recognized, I had always promised her we would get married," Barb said. "She had never been asked to be married."
So Barb started planning a grand proposal.
'A regular Oregonian'
Barb and Lisa weren't the only ones who didn't think they'd ever have the right to legally marry. Jeff Standy also said he didn't think he'd live to see the day. He met Ken Cook on Gay.com six years ago. Their first interaction was chatting for hours online the day before Valentine's Day. The following weekend, they met in person. Ken brought Jeff a half-dozen lavender-colored roses. Jeff had gotten Ken a single rose, but it also was a lavender one.
It was the beginning of a relationship that Jeff said makes him whole, but their relationship, like many, wasn't always rosey. Jeff, who lives with AIDS, didn't want to weigh down the relationship with his health concerns. soHe had second thoughts early on.
"I didn't care about that," Ken said about the AIDS. "All I wanted was him. We've had our rocky roads, but we've always come back together."
The couple, now in their 60s, have been serious the past three years and are planning a Dec. 14 wedding at their church, First Congregational United Church of Christ in Salem. Like Barb and Lisa, Jeff had said he would marry Ken when it was legal.
"I didn't want to go out of the state I was born in to get married," Jeff said. "Now I get to be a regular Oregonian and marry the man I love."
Ken wanted to marry right away, but Jeff wanted to wait for December. "You don't have to decorate then," Jeff said. "Churches are all decorated already, and everybody is in a joyful mood." There's even talk of an ugly-sweater reception.
The men said they are getting married likely for the same reasons straight couples do, not because they can or necessarily for certain rights.
"I didn't really do it for the legality of it," Jeff said about the engagement. "I did it to show him I love him."
"This man has opened my eyes to what love is," Ken said. "I've been with other guys that I thought was love, but it wasn't like this. I want to spend the rest of my life with him."
When you enter Barb and Lisa's home in South Salem, a wall of photos show off their passions: friends, family and traveling. Photos from the weddings of Barb's two children from a previous marriage hang proudly. Next to them are framed snapshots of Barb and Lisa's many travels and the friends they've not only met on those travels but kept in contact with and reconnect with on other adventures.
"People say when I retire, I'm going to go do that," Barb said about their travels. "We make the most of every day because we don't know what tomorrow brings."
They say they've maxed out their vacation allowance at work and take advantage of the time, not staying home but traveling, whether it's floating down the Santiam River or camping in Oregon or flying to Mexico.
It was on one of their trips last year that Barb started planning a surprise proposal.
They had planned already a late-October Caribbean cruise. A stop in New Orleans with friends timed up nicely with the date the women had long celebrated as their anniversary, Oct. 25.
Barb asked some artistic friends to help her by decorating and hanging a 5-foot-by-8-foot banner that read "Will you marry me Lisa" from the top railing of a New Orleans Bar called OZ on Bourbon Street.
With tears in her eyes and her voice cracking, Barb recalled how after eating dinner, she led Lisa down the famed street in the city's French Quarter toward the banner.
"I looked up, and Lisa looked up," Barb said.
"I thought somebody was asking another Lisa to marry them," Lisa said, thinking back. "I was just shocked. It's an incredible feeling when you live your whole life knowing you'll never be able to legally marry. It's just wow."
Barb said as Lisa looked up, she dropped to her knee and presented her with a big, heart-shaped, $3.99 "bling-bling ring" that Barb described as "so us."
Lisa said yes and put on the ring to cheers on the street.
A last-minute change of plans
When Barb and Lisa got back to Oregon, the usual wedding planning started: flowers, gowns, catering, photography and sending out invitations.
Lisa didn't want to get married at the courthouse. She wanted a real wedding dress, and wanted her dad, who had married her siblings and Barb's children, to marry them, too. They asked him on his 75th birthday.
"He said, 'Of course,' " Barb said. "It was special to us to have that."
They picked Memorial Day weekend as a wedding date so that not only their local friends and family could come but friends from their many travels.
As they planned, it was always thought they'd have to go to Washington for the legal ceremony. Then, in late April, they heard that a U.S. District Court in Eugene was going to make a ruling on whether the ban on gay marriage would be lifted in Oregon.
As time went on, they started to joke that the ruling would be made the day after they got married, but then the news came that the ruling would be made May 19, five days before they were set to wed.
On May 19, when the ruling came in, their phones were blowing up with the news and words of congratulations. Another day and they would have gotten their marriage license in Washington.
Despite the three-day waiting period being waived when it became legal in Oregon, Barb and Lisa went down to the Marion County Clerk's Office May 19 to get their marriage license. They were expecting long lines but ended up being the second same-sex couple in the county to get a marriage license. A photo of Barb and Lisa getting their license ran in the Statesman Journal on May 20.
"We were equally the same as everyone else," Barb said. "We had planned a huge wedding in front of family and friends. We got lucky."
A second round of vows
While they didn't start planning their wedding until the amendment was overturned, the ruling also was timely for another pair of women. Shelley Wagener and Lori Ensign have been together 26 years and have three teens, one by natural birth and two by adoption. It was 22 years earlier, on June 27, that they had exchanged vows in a church in Chicago.
"We've honored those vows ever since, but we still had to check the singles box," Lori said.
When the ruling was made in May, Lori called Shelley to see if she heard. At some point in the conversation, she asked Shelley to marry her. But over the phone wasn't quite what Shelley had in mind, so Lori brought home a dozen roses.
The kids saw her first and asked if she was going to propose, Lori recalled.
Indeed she was.
When she saw Shelley, she got down on one knee and asked Shelley to be her wife, this time in the eyes of the law.
"One of the things I wanted was for it to be on our current anniversary," Shelley said of the wedding date.
That gave the women a bit more than a month to put together a wedding.
"We're used to pulling together services," Shelley added.
The women met in seminary when they were in their 20s. Shelley served as a pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Salem in the mid '90s for five years before moving to pastor a church in Talahassee, Fla. They moved back to Salem in 2004, partly because same-sex adoption isn't legal in Florida like it is in Oregon, where both women can be recognized as equal mothers. Lori has been a chaplain and bereavement counselor for hospice, and Both currently work for area hospices. Shelley also serves at Meridian United Church of Christ in Wilsonville part time.
For the wedding, the women kept much the same from the first ceremony. Along with the date, they kept the same vows, rings, scripture reading, same song ("Song of Community") and passed around the same prayer shawl that people had spoken blessings over 22 years ago. This time, though, after it went through the guests, it was draped over not just the couple but also their three children as a prayer was spoken over them.
"It was important for our kids," Lori said about the recent wedding. "They held that hope. When we first got married, we never thought this would be possible, but they held that hope."
Lori added that the ceremony was really about celebrating community and being able to make what they had recognized as marriage for two decades legal.
Shelley added that the public recognition and the protection that comes with the status of being married are important too.
"When our children grow up and find someone, we want them to mark it with marriage," Shelley said. "Relationships, stability, commitments are important."
Because they didn't have to drive to Washington on their wedding day, Lori and Barb spent the time taking wedding photos. Both in white traditional gowns, the woman posed on the footbridge over Wallace Marine Park and at Bush's Pasture Park.
The ceremony was in front of 200 people at the Grand Ballroom. Barb's son, David Dean, walked her down the aisle, followed by Lisa hand-in-hand with her father.
The woman had planned vows based off of the Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler film "Just Go For It." They had seen the film and loved the idea of making their vows a series of 10 "I love you because …" statements:
Lisa: "I love you because you show me how to have fun."
"I love you because you fill a hole in my heart."
Barb: "I love you because you love me unconditionally, accept me for the woman I am …"
A couple of friends and Barb's daughter also made their own "I love them because …" statements.
"I love them because they taught me what acceptance is," said Cristin Guitron, Barb's daughter, "and that has made me into the woman I am today, and without both of their love, I wouldn't be where I am."
After a kiss, Lisa's dad introduced the women as "It's just going to be Lisa and Barb."
"It's still kind of surreal that I'm actually married," Lisa said more than a month later. "I love Oregon. I love my state. It felt good to get married here and know the state is backing you."
"It's been an amazing adventure for us that she's my wife," Barb said. "I didn't believe it would truly ever be legal in my lifetime. The timing was perfect. When I look back, it was like it was all meant to happen. We were lucky. Love is love. That is what we've heard from friends."read more: One Shoulder Bridesmaid Dresses