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Two Years Later, What It Means to Be Wed

By Alix Strauss

Couples on the cover of The New York Times the day after same-sex marriage was legalized.
 
The New York Times
Couples on the cover of The New York Times the day after same-sex marriage was legalized.

The Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a nationwide right June 26, 2015. The next day, The New York Times highlighted 12 same-sex couples, many of whom were the first in their cities to wed on that day.

Six of those couples recently reflected about what marriage meant to them, and what they had learned. The interviews have been edited and condensed.

Lori Hazelton, 26, graphic designer, and Stephanie Wade, 25, cook and student, Muskegon, Michigan.

Lori Hazelton/ Stephanie WadeIn an undated handout photo, Lori Hazelton and Stephanie Wade. The couple met in high school and were married the day of the Supreme Court ruling legalising same sex marriage.
In an undated handout photo, Lori Hazelton and Stephanie Wade. The couple met in high school and were married the day of the Supreme Court ruling legalising same sex marriage.

Relationship: Met in high school and were married the day of the Supreme Court ruling. “We were the first couple in our county to be married in our local courthouse,” Hazelton said.

Marriage: “It made our bond stronger,” she said. “We’ve faced a great deal of challenges together since the moment we met. We’re glad we could finally say, ‘I do.’ We can now openly say, ‘That’s my wife,’ and legally mean it. It may not sound like much to some, but to be able to say that after years of not being able to get married, it still gives us a smile.”

Marriage lesson learned: “Don’t give up. If you keep fighting for something, even when faced with so many that would prefer you stay where you are, keep going.”

Crystal Zimmer, 27, who works in the restaurant field, and Lena Williams, 37, a heavy-equipment operator for Johnson Controls, Cincinnati.

The New York TimesIn an undated handout photo, Crystal Zimmer and Lena Williams. The women, together for almost seven years, were the first female couple to marry in front of a Hamilton County judge in Cincinnati after the Supreme Court ruling legalising same sex marriage.
In an undated handout photo, Crystal Zimmer and Lena Williams. The women, together for almost seven years, were the first female couple to marry in front of a Hamilton County judge in Cincinnati after the Supreme Court ruling legalising same sex marriage.

Relationship: Together almost seven years. Zimmer’s aunt played matchmaker; they were the first female couple to marry in front of a Hamilton County judge. “It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Williams said.

Marriage: “Relationship wise, there is more respect that we have for one another,” she said. “We face life challenges together as one.”

Marriage lesson learned: “We don’t run away from issues. We work through them because we promised to spend the rest of our lives together. No one’s going to have your back like your wife!”

Tom Fennell, 52, freelance legal translator, and Christopher Brown, 42, proofreader, accountant, Omaha.

Tom Fennell/ Christopher BrownTom Fennell and Christopher Brown were together six and a half years before they married on Aug. 29, 2015, next door to their home on the Missouri River in Omaha after the Supreme Court ruling legalising same sex marriage.
Tom Fennell and Christopher Brown were together six and a half years before they married on Aug. 29, 2015, next door to their home on the Missouri River in Omaha after the Supreme Court ruling legalising same sex marriage.

Relationship: The couple met in a bar. They were together 6 1/2 years before they married Aug. 29, 2015, next door to their home on the Missouri River in Omaha.

Marriage: “There’s a feeling of more security,” they said in an email. “It’s much different to use the word ‘husband’ rather than ‘friend’ or ‘partner.’ It makes one feel that one is fully accepted by society, even if not by individuals.”

Marriage lesson learned: “Making a life commitment to a person can bring more freedom than confinement, especially when this commitment is recognised and supported by family and society.”

Julia Troxler, 61, retired, and Barbara Schwartz, 65, federal employee, Fairhope, Alabama.

Julia Troxler and Barbara Schwartz met on Match.com and were together for nine and a half years before marrying on June 26, 2015, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta.
Julia Troxler and Barbara Schwartz met on Match.com and were together for nine and a half years before marrying on June 26, 2015, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta.

Relationship: Met on Match.com and were together for 9 1/2 years before marrying June 26, 2015, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta.

Marriage: “Has made us more open and able to bring our whole selves into the relationship,” they said in an email. “Being out in the open with our relationship, and actually being accepted by most people we meet, has made us less afraid.”

Marriage lesson learned: “Hang in there and do the work. It takes maintenance. It doesn’t run on its own.”
 

Natalie Marie Leslie, 34, and Christina Marie Leslie, 34, aircraft mechanics, Taylor, Michigan.

The New York TimesNatalie Marie Leslie and Christina Marie Leslie with their daughter, Alice. The couple met in 2009 and rushed to be married the day the Supreme Court ruling legalised same sex marriage.
Natalie Marie Leslie and Christina Marie Leslie with their daughter, Alice. The couple met in 2009 and rushed to be married the day the Supreme Court ruling legalised same sex marriage.

Relationship: Met at work and started dating in 2009. “We rushed down to Detroit to the Wayne County clerk’s office the day it became legal in 2015,” Christina Leslie said. “We were so worried that something might happen and we would lose our chance.”

Marriage: “Marriage has given us a sense of safety,” she said. “No one can invalidate what we have. Our daughter Alice was born shortly before we were married. Since Natalie gave birth before the ruling, I had no parental rights. Because we got married, I was able to legally adopt our daughter.”

Marriage lesson learned: “Waiting so long to get the same privileges as others have taught us to work hard and fight for our rights. We know marriage is not something to be entered into lightly. It takes work and commitment, and we have a bond that is stronger than any other I have ever known."
 

Kenneth Denson, 40, and Gabriel Mendez, 35, in Dallas. Owners of Red Pegasus Comics.

The New York TimesKenneth Denson and Gabriel Mendez met at a gay youth group at their local college and have been together for 16 years. They married legally in 2012 in San Francisco, and once more at the Dallas County Courthouse in 2015.
Kenneth Denson and Gabriel Mendez met at a gay youth group at their local college and have been together for 16 years. They married legally in 2012 in San Francisco, and once more at the Dallas County Courthouse in 2015.

Relationship: Met at a gay youth group at their local college and have been together for 16 years. In 2005, the couple gave themselves a “nongovernmental commitment ceremony” where they exchanged vows, “because it wasn’t legal yet in Texas, and that’s what people were doing,” Denson said. They married legally in 2012 in San Francisco and once more at the Dallas County Courthouse in 2015.

Marriage: “Kenneth now owns half of my student loan debts,” Mendez said. “And we are now recognised locally as the ‘gay comic shop guys.'”

Marriage lesson learned: “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said. “Always have an open dialogue. Learn to compromise. Have a sense of humour. And live someplace with two bathrooms.”