One Maryland couple talks to ELIXHER about the recent marriage equality victory and their personal journey to the altar.
ELIXHER: What’s your background as a couple?
LAKISHA & SHADONNA: We met in 2008 at Pure Lounge in Washington, DC. From the very first conversation, we have not stopped talking. This March we will celebrate our five-year anniversary.
ELIXHER: What was it like being Maryland residents without the right to marry?
L & S: Prior to living in Maryland, we lived in Washington, DC and planned to purchase a home. We looked at countless properties without luck of finding “the one.” After six months of looking, we randomly found a neighborhood we adored in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the place where we both grew up. We had the amazing opportunity to see our home built from the ground up and we waited patiently to become proud homeowners. Within a couple of weeks before closing on our property, and excitement building, we were a bit deflated and disappointed to learn that DC passed the law to allow same-sex marriage. There was no turning back. We were officially slated to move to Maryland!
Becoming homeowners made us starkly aware of the limitations of living in Maryland without marriage equality. Generally, we had to make our own explicit provisions for the rights that are lawfully and automatically granted to a spouse. We had to have serious conversations with our families to be sure they knew our wishes for the things we shared together in the event of untimely departures. Although we adored our home, our community, and our neighbors, we were disappointed that the state we had just migrated to would not unequivocally acknowledge the seriousness of our relationship.
When the Governor Martin O’Malley, signed the bill to enact the Civil Marriage Protection Act earlier this year in March, we knew that our right to marry would still be under scrutiny and subject to possible repeal. We were right; the bill was placed on the 2012 voting ballot as referendum “Question 6.”
ELIXHER: How and why did you get involved in the freedom to marry campaign? What was the extent of your involvement?
L & S: As the election neared, we wanted to be sure that we did not stand on the perimeter, and have decisions made for us without any influence. We decided to develop our own grassroots campaign and began our influence very close to home by starting with our family and friends. The most prominent driver was that we knew that they loved us as individuals, but we were not sure how they felt about us, or other same-sex couples, getting married. So we designed a mini-website to inform them about what “Question 6” would mean for us, them, and other same-sex couples in Maryland. We also asked our loved ones to sign a virtual pledge to vote for marriage equality. In essence, we created a forum for them to express their sentiments about same-sex marriage. We received several pledges from people who were previously undecided on how they would vote for our freedom to marry. They shared with us that their observance of our relationship was the primary reason why they felt that voting for equality was the right thing to do.
After receiving an overwhelming support from many friends and family members, our involvement in the freedom to marry campaign grew even larger. Two of our friends, who are an amazing couple at the hub of political and social activism, knew someone who was looking for a couple from Maryland to profile for Freedom to Marry. They recommended that we share our story of activism and we were invited to an interview. Our profile was featured on their homepage marquee during the week leading up to the election. It was also used to develop social media messages to garner support for marriage equality in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington on their website and on The Four 2012. Subsequently, we were invited to provide quotes in EBONY.com on the passing of marriage equality in Maryland. From there, another friend connected us with a journalist for WJLA-ABC 7 News to share our reactions the Maryland election results.
ELIXHER: Why is marriage equality important?
L & S: Marriage equality is important because it means all people have the same rights, benefits, and acknowledgement granted by lawful commitment to the personal they love, without regard to gender or sexual orientation. It reflects an embrace of our differences (sexual orientation) and similarities (love and citizenship) at once.
ELIXHER: Should queer folks of color care about the right to marry when black trans women are being murdered disproportionately and black queer people can’t find work? Why/why not?
L & S: While marriage equality may not be as high of a priority on the list of inequalities in comparison to Black transgender women being murdered disproportionately, people of color should care about all matters of injustice and detriment to us. Dissipation and the eradication of inequality in any area of life can serve as the catalyst or impetus for global justice. However, we also need to recognize our obligations to each other to fight for all of our livelihoods, even when we are not directly impacted by the injustices we face as individuals. Upon consideration that we have all been marginalized in some way, we need to focus on how to adopt a collectivist approach to advocating for all things that allow us to flourish as a community.
ELIXHER: What did it mean to you for marriage equality to pass in MD?
L & S: Marriage equality passing felt like we had asked Maryland to marry us and she replied ‘yes.’ We felt like our love would finally be respected and acknowledged in our state. It meant that most Marylanders were progressive and fair.
ELIXHER: Did you expect Marylanders to vote “yes” on Question 6?
L & S: In the privacy of our home we nervously waited to hear the vote, in case we wanted to scream or cry for any reason. We tried to have no expectation but instead a lot of faith and hope.
ELIXHER: How accurate is the media depiction of black folks and their lack of support of same-sex marriage? Was that your experience with your families, friends, church, etc?
L & S: The media has not depicted what we have experienced personally. Our non-supporters have been the minority. Most of our friends and family are straight Black people who have on many occasions self-identified as Christians. What has been communicated through their voices has been support for us, and people like us. On our site, with mostly Black respondents, only 3% said they planned to vote against marriage equality, and sited religion as the foundation for their reason. Other friends expressed their belief that their religious practices should not impact our civil rights or support inequality.
What we did find as a common thread is that some of our friends and family had not been intimately exposed to same-sex couples prior to knowing us. So maybe a facet the media needs to expose about supposed non-supporters is their lack of interaction with same-sex couples. Often it is lack of interaction and ignorance that feed discrimination.
ELIXHER: What’s next for you two?
L & S: Now that we have an equal opportunity to marry in Maryland we have been ecstatic about our future of being engaged, wedding planning, and planning for children. In the midst of this excitement we recognize that there is much more work to do in our state and on the national level to enhance the quality of life for all LGBT people and families. Equal job opportunities, diversity teaching, anti-bullying policies in schools, and laws to protect and include transgender individuals are amid the work that needs to be done. We are excited and even more empowered to continue to help the world around us evolve toward love and equality.
– Interview by Kimberley McLeod
Kimberley McLeod is a DC-based media strategist. She is the founder and editor of ELIXHER.com.