The Times‘ David Koon and David Ramsey are at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock this morning collecting stories from newlyweds and those who’ve been waging the fight to overturn Arkansas’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Misti Rose and Robin Butler
Rose, 26, and Butler, 20, drove in this morning from Stuttgart. They’ve been together for a year and a half. “We spoke about it,” Butler said, “and we were like: Now’s our chance to do it in our home state, so we decided to do it now.”
They’re raising a 7 month-old daughter together. “We want to show her that it’s not about male and female, male and male, or female and female,” Butler said. “We’re all alike on the inside. It’s about who we are.”
Rose said that those who are against gay marriage are afraid of what they don’t understand, but eventually the state will change. “They think it’s going to rub off on them,” she said. “But if I can get my grandma on the bandwagon, anybody can be on the bandwagon.”
Later in the day, after everything had been signed, sealed and officiated, I saw Rose and Butler posing for pictures in the hallway of the courthouse, a man holding a little point and shoot camera and telling them to smile, telling them they could go anywhere they wanted for lunch to celebrate. They dutifully smiled. The camera clicked, capturing the start of something, and — God willing — something good. We all roll the dice and take our chances at a moment like that, imperfect hearts tumbled together in love.
When the pictures were made, Butler picked up their 7 month old, who had been periodically cranky and squalling during the picture taking, and the girl was instantly soothed. Soon, with Rose and Butler walking close together and the baby on Butler’s hip — the portrait of a nuclear family — they made their way across the rotunda toward the courthouse door and the future beyond.
Randy and Gary Eddy-McCain
“I’m a southern gospel fan, so I can’t think of anything better than “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now.” It’s a wonderful day. … Gary and I became plaintiffs in this lawsuit because we believe that the state of Arkansas, this wonderful state that we love so much, has been deficient in keeping their promises to us as a married couple. When it comes to marriage, I have a great heritage lived out before me by my parents. They raised me to respect the institution of marriage. They showed me by example how to do it right. They were together for 54 years before they were parted by my dad’s death in 2000. My parents taught me that you find the person that God has for you and you commit your life to them. You cherish and love that person in the good times and the bad, until death parts you. I found that person: here he is, Gary.
“I’ve committed my life to him. I cherish him and thank God for this wonderful, rich experience. My parents called this commitment and so do we. I have been made a better citizen, a better follower of Jesus Christ, a better father to our son, and a better man because of the love that I share with Gary. The state of Arkansas gave me the right 18 years ago to marry heterosexual couples and I have. Yet my own 20-plus year marriage was not recognized by my beloved state until Friday.
“Because of Judge Piazza’s right and fair ruling on Friday, mine and Gary’s marriage is a now legal right here in this state where I was born and raised. We are blissfully happy today. I have never been more proud to be an Arkansan.
Some have said that it is impossible for two people of the same gender to happily live together. I beg to differ with those naysayers. Gary and I have been blissfully happy for 20 plus years and we look forward to as many more years as we both shall live: happily married Arkansans.”
Michael Rice and Josh Metcalf
Rice, 35, and Metcalf, 25, just got married. They were engaged three days before Halloween two years ago. Never believing Arkansas would come along so soon, they had planned to travel to a state where gay marriage is legal, but life had so far conspired against them. They drove to Eureka on Saturday, but didn’t get in.
“He proposed to me,” Metcalf said. “He took me out to one of our favorite camping spots where we first went camping and he surprised me, presented me with a ring, and asked me. I immediately said yes!”
Brandy Garvin and Olivia Moore
“It’s unexplainable,” said Garvin
“It’s the happiest day of my life,” said Moore, crying.
Garvin and Moore, from Jacksonville, have been together for six years. They had previously thought they might go to San Francisco to get married because they never thought they would have the chance to do so in Arkansas. The couple is planning a ceremony in Eureka Springs this summer.
Though they’ve been together for years, legal marriage feels important, Olivia said. “We plan on having a family and we want the legal protection,” she said.
Olivia and Brandy said they’re keeping their fingers crossed as the legal battle continues. If the Supreme Court overruled Judge Piazza’s ruling and called their marriage void, Olivia “would be crushed,” she said. “But I’m feeling extremely hopeful.”
Kristin Seaton and Jennifer Rambo
Seaton, 27, and Rambo, 26, of Fort Smith became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the Arkansas in Eureka Springs on Saturday. So far, married life is “awesome” said Seaton.
“I feel like we’re stress free about it all,” Rambo said. “We don’t have to worry about our future family now, or kids. We’re taken care of. We have equal rights. It’s a relief, honestly.”
Seaton and Rambo came out to the courthouse in Little Rock today to “support our fellow Arkansans.”
On Saturday, they initially didn’t realize that they were the first legally married same-sex couple in Arkansas, and in the South. “We didn’t even know at first, we thought we were just the first in line [in Eureka Springs],” Seaton said. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”
“I’m still in shock,” Rambo said. “Last night we went home and got a Redbox, turned off the phones and kind of soaked it in for a little bit. It’s a great feeling.”
Seaton and Rambo, who have been together four years, said they were “keeping high hopes” about the future legal battles ahead.
The timing of Judge Piazza’s ruling worked out perfectly for the couple. Rambo proposed in March and they were planning their ceremony for October. “Now it’s going to be the real thing,” Rambo said. “It’s indescribable.”
Seaton proposed while they were hiking in Devil’s Den State Park. “It was actually her birthday weekend, and I had a whole weekend planned for her,” Rambo said. “We stayed in a cabin in Devil’s Den, and she surprised me. It was one of the first places we had went after we met: Yellow Rock Trail. We were climbing up to the top, and the next thing you know, it started raining a little bit. She got down on one knee. It caught me off guard. It was the biggest surprise and the best surprise that’s ever happened to me.
“I knew it was meant to be when it rained,” Seaton said. “The rain was her and her father’s thing, and her dad had recently passed. Once it started sprinkling, I was like: this is him letting us know he’s here. It was bittersweet. It still gives me chills right now, thinking about it.”
Are they going to be together forever?
“Forever and ever,” Rambo said. .
“Definitely,” Seaton said. “We’re old-fashioned and traditional about that, believe it or not.”
—David Ramsey and David Koon
Chantel Jandak and Andria Stock
Jandak, 43, knew she would marry Stock, 28, some day. “Right away we knew,” she said. They just didn’t know they’d be able to do it in Arkansas. “It matters because this is where we live,” she said. The Jacksonport couple has been together for a year and got engaged in April in Eureka Springs.
Jandak said she was worried about the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning the decision allowing their marriage to go forward. “We’re concerned,” she said. “It would be damaging as a human being. It would be heartbreaking. We deserve it just as much as anybody else.”
James Paulus and Christopher Shelton
Shelton, 25, and Paulus, 26 went to high school together in England, where they still live. They were Boy Scouts together. They re-connected after school and became a couple.
“Seven years together,” Shelton said. “Seven years strong. To the rest of our lives now.”
“This is something we’ve waited a long time and never thought we’d see in this lifetime,” Paulus said.
Shelton said he hoped that “everybody comes to their senses and realizes that we’re all equal.”
“No matter what the outcome of this case, whether it’s appealed or stayed, it doesn’t matter, we’re married, that’s all that matters,” Paulus said.
Shelton, gripping his marriage certificate and weeping, agreed: “It doesn’t matter what anybody says now, I don’t care. We’re married.”
Paulus said that the marriage showed that “at least someone in the state of Arkansas higher-ups cares about human equality. … We’re all equal and we all deserve the same treatment. That’s what this means.” Paulus and Shelton said that it was very important to be able to wed in their home state. “We just never thought we’d see the day,” Paulus said.
Susan Barr and Shelly Butler
Susan Barr and Shelly Butler of Dallas, Tex. were the first same-sex couple to obtain a license at the Pulaski County Courthouse this morning, and were eventually the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Pulaski County, once the paperwork was finalized. They’ve been together for 29 years. Butler, who is from Hope, is in a wheelchair. Their entering through the wheelchair-accessible east entrance of the courthouse this morning was a blessing in disguise that landed them at the head of the line. Butler was in Arkansas visiting her mother for the Mother’s Day weekend on Saturday when she heard about Piazza’s ruling. She immediately got in the car, drove to Texas, picked up Barr and some clothes at their home in Dallas — where same-sex marriages are still not recognized by the state — and drove back to Arkansas.
Asked what the word “married” will add to their relationship, given their long, long commitment to one another, Butler said: “Everything. Everything. It’s a long time coming. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for many years, and it’s finally a reality. We couldn’t be happier… I don’t think it’ll necessarily change our relationship other than the official recognition from society. It’s just going to feel correct, I think.”
“It’s nice that kids growing up now won’t have to hide who they are,” Barr replied, looking out at the crowded hallway outside the clerk’s office, teeming with happy young same-sex couples this morning.
“Yes,” Butler said. “They’ll be able to choose the partner of their choice and marry them.”
John Schenck and Robert Loyd
The organizers of the Gay Pride Parade in Conway, Schenck and Loyd are one of the most well known gay couples in Arkansas, featured in multiple documentaries and on the cover of the Arkansas Times in 2004 dressed in the matching tuxedos they wore during their wedding celebration on the steps of the State Capitol. They were legally married in Canada in 2004 but hope to be married here in Arkansas. However, the couple wants to be married in Faulkner County, where they have been living for 28 years. Faulkner is not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples today despite Piazza’s ruling.
“We came out in support of everybody else who can now legally get married,” Schenck said. “We were hoping to see this happen in Faulkner County. But that’s not happened, so we figured we’ll pack it up and go to Little Rock. We’re here to support them.”
Schenck and Loyd will celebrate their fortieth anniversary as a couple this January.
Beverly Best, and Ashley Mueller
Best, 24, and Mueller, 25, picked out their rings years ago—gold zirconia for Best and pink sapphire for Mueller. Today, the couple, together almost nine years, was finally able to put them on each other’s fingers as a legally married couple.
“I’m so excited, I’m so happy, it’s surreal,” Best said. “I was ready to make her my wife.”
Shane Frazier and Curtis Chatham
Frazier and Chatham have lived in Little Rock for the past 12 years, and have been together for 12 and a half. Their four-year-old son, Cory, was there with them at the courthouse today to watch his dads get married, the boy all smiles and wearing a smart little bow tie half the size of the ones sported by his fathers. He came into their lives two years ago. He will grow up in a world where bigotry against gays and lesbians is rapidly drying up and blowing off across the wastes of history, dying off, dying out. His children may well grow up never having heard the slurs against gays his grandfathers surely knew when they were children themselves.
Today’s lesson for Cory, Frazier said, was to love everyone. “It’s not our place to judge anyone,” Frazier said. “If what you’re doing doesn’t impact or hurt someone else, leave people alone.”
Frazier said he would challenge anyone to show him how his getting married today has harmed anyone by sunrise tomorrow. “Tomorrow, when you wake up, ask yourself: our being married legally and being afforded the rights everyone else has, did it truly change anything for anyone other than us? No one else lost their rights. No marriages failed because of ours succeeding. So I really don’t know what people are afraid of.”
They decided to get legally wed for the protections a marriage certificate will afford them, but Frazier was clearly married to Chatham long before the state issued them a piece of paper. They met through mutual friends and fell in love — the same old story that’s been played out forever among couples both gay and straight. He and Chatham are on their third home together. They’re the beneficiaries of each others’ wills and life insurance policies. They’ve long held a joint bank account. They both wear wedding rings, and have been lived through five dogs. Tonight, Cory and his fathers will go home as if nothing has changed. Meals will be cooked. Garbage will be carried out. Plates will be washed and dried. Somebody, Frazier said, will still have to do the laundry. The same as anyone. No one harmed. No one wounded.
“It’s our boring life,” Frazier said. “Our boring life we love.”
— David Koon