Editor’s note: This is part one in a series of stories regarding same-sex marriage on the central Kenai Peninsula.
By Jenny Neyman
For an event so charged with controversy, moral condemnation, protestations of equal rights, years of legal wrangling and no less than an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ceremony Friday at the Kenai Courthouse was most remarkable in its absence of anything particularly remarkable. All went as it normally would.
The couple arrived a bit early after spending hours getting fancied up, yet still having to rush out of the house because such primping always takes longer than expected. In the clerk’s office they filled out paperwork and paid the fee, while chatting and laughing about nothing in particular, with the nervous energy inherent in completing the mundane that precedes something momentous.
The crowd of friends and family in attendance were just as patiently good-natured, a knot of smiles, laughter and camera phones brightening the solemn vibe more typically imbuing a courthouse hallway.
The marriage ceremony itself was mostly boilerplate. The officiant read from a script, and the participants spoke when expected to, responding as expected to. The crowd teared and cheered on the regular cues — the entrance march (with music they provided themselves, singing an enthusiastic a cappella “dah, dum t’dumm, dah dum t’dumm”), the exchange of rings, the kiss.
There was, of course, the obvious difference. The bride, with her pink bouquet and white lace overlay dress, facing her bride, with her pink bouquet and white-and-black floral dress.
The officiant asking if Heidi would take this woman, Tanya, to be her lawfully wedded wife. And if Tanya would do the same, both promising to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as they both shall live.
Heidi King and Tanya Luck’s ceremony Friday was only the second same-sex marriage to be performed at the Kenai Courthouse — the first being two men married the day before — since Alaska was required to lift its ban on gay marriage.
Despite the larger legal context — the Alaska Legislature passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 1998 with a voter referendum approving the measure, a federal district court on Oct. 12 declaring the ban unconstitutional, the state appealing the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court declining the hear a similar case, thus validating the lower court decision — the ceremony itself was a lot like all the other marriages performed at the courthouse prior to last Thursday. And that’s exactly how the couple wanted it.
“Really, we’re like any other couple,” King said.
In legal terms, that’s now true.
King, 27, met Luck, 36, soon after she moved to Sterling from Oregon eight years ago. Her aunt decided King needed to make some friends, and arranged a snowmaching trip with a group of people. One of whom was Luck, an avid snowmachiner who moved to the central peninsula from Seward 11 years ago. The two started hanging out through a mutual friend and a year later were a couple. They’ve been together for six years now, and both say it’s the best relationship they’ve had.
“Maybe it’s the fact we can be 100 percent honest with each other and not sugarcoat it. It’s open communication, and we have a pretty good home life — neither one of us is better or less than the other. We both pay the bills, we both do housework,” King said.
“I love her completely, wholeheartedly. It’s easy. It’s open, good communication. There’s complete trust in the relationship. We have the same values, the same morals,” Luck said.
They also have the same challenges all couples face.
“Oh, we have the same issues, to a T,” King laughed. “I throw my socks on my side of the bed. She does laundry, because I hate laundry. So once a week she’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s like 20 pairs of socks over here!’ I’m like, ‘I know. I’m sorry. But you do the laundry, I do the dishes — we’re good.’”
They’ve supported each other through job changes and pursued aspirations. King went to Kenai Peninsula College for her associate’s degree and now works in the health care field. Luck worked as a chef for a number of years, at Central Peninsula Hospital and in the oil field, but recently wanted a change so started driving for United Postal Service.
They’ve debated where to live — King wanting to move to Washington, in part because same-sex marriage is legal there, but compromising for Luck’s sake.
“I love the peninsula so we’re here, this is home,” Luck said.
Their open communication can lead to wanting to give each other the silent treatment at times, but that’s not an option in their living situation — with six people, five dogs and three cats currently in their five-bedroom house. Two of King’s siblings live with the couple, as well as two others who needed a place to stay.
“We have a house full. We have a sign out front, that we probably need to take down, that says ‘strays welcome.’ We like to help people, though, so we open our home a lot,” Luck said.
“But we’ve got rules,” King added.
“Yep, you have to follow the rules. If you can’t do that, you can leave,” Luck said.
They’re united, yet make sure they retain their individuality.
“We’re like our own entity in the family, but at the same point we’re able to stay a couple,” King said. “You see a lot of marriages where the couple gets lost in the family dynamics. We’ve managed to see those red flags and be like, ‘OK, we need to take time for each other and go be a couple, instead of just mom and mom.’”
“We’re autonomous, two separate entities who come together. You don’t get that codependency going on that way,” Luck said.
By four years in they knew they wanted their relationship to be forever, so had a commitment ceremony in 2010. Friends and family came, they exchanged vows and rings, had cake — “the whole shebang,” Luck said. “I already call her my wife.”
But the state of Alaska did not.
“We both wanted it to be permanent, so we did everything but sign the piece of paper. But we knew it wasn’t legal in the state,” King said.
Both say the lack of legal recognition didn’t affect their feelings for one another, their level of commitment, their recognition of being wife and wife. But it did pose some functional challenges. Their home is in King’s name, not in both as a married couple. They pay separate policies on all three of their vehicles. They’d like to have kids of their own but will have to go to Anchorage to a clinic that will see same-sex couples. If one were to get hurt, the other wouldn’t automatically be recognized as family.
“Working in the health field I know about advance directives and power of attorney. (Before being legally married) if one of us was to get hurt we wouldn’t have any say in the other’s medical care, and that’s a big deal,” King said.
And there was the issue of fairness, they said. They work like everyone else, pay taxes like everyone else, shop in the same stores, stop at the same stoplights, wrangle schedules over family-shuttling duties, have the same fights about unpicked-up socks, and cherish their occasional moments of quality time together, when all those other things can be set aside for an afternoon. They’ve bristled that they couldn’t share the same legal recognition.
“We’re not in the Stone Age anymore. A lot of things have changed. This is a step forward in this country,” King said.
Luck takes a to-each-their-own stance, including minding one’s own business.
“I get where they’re coming from but I don’t see why we should be punished for what someone else believes,” she said. “Don’t try to impose your beliefs on my life because you think it’s wrong. Not everybody believes in the same thing, and that’s OK. It’s just the way it is.”
The courthouse wedding ceremony didn’t even have to be rewritten to suit them. The officiant spoke of the importance of wholehearted commitment and the necessity of support, companionship, sacrifice and compromise to a successful marriage. At no point did gender or genitals enter into it.
For the most part, Luck and King said they haven’t run into discrimination or personal attacks over their relationship.
“There have been a couple people who don’t necessarily agree with it but they don’t fight me on it,” King said.
“When I was growing up in ’90s it wasn’t socially acceptable,” Luck said. “But now — and it could just be the circle of people that we’re in, because I usually kind of feel people out before I let them know — but 95 percent of people are cool, no big deal, they don’t care. I’ve run into very, very few people here that have an issue with us being together. I have run into some people who have an issue with marriage being legal. Because of their beliefs, they don’t think it’s right. Not that they have anything against us as people, but just the whole idea of it.”
It can be frustrating to meet someone and get along just fine, then see a noticeable shift, King said.
“It’s funny, sometimes you talk to someone and they’re OK, but then they find out and they look at you differently all of a sudden. But I’m the same person. I’m just married to a woman, not a man,” King said.
She said she thinks the legalization of same-sex marriage is a good step for Alaska, though one neither expected to happen when it did.
“Not in Alaska. It’s such a Republican-based, conservative state,” King said.
“We thought we were going to be the last state to change. And then, boom, we got the news,” Luck said.
They filed their paperwork to be married on Oct. 20 and their ceremony was set for Friday. It was in part just a formality, not taking away from their original commitment ceremony — same rings, dresses already in their closest, a simple bonfire party to celebrate. And yet, it wasn’t just signatures and a change in legal status.
“After we sign that piece of paper, if we ever decide we don’t want to be together we have to go through that same process everybody else has to go through. I see it as another commitment ceremony. We say our vows over again. It’s a big deal to another level,” King said.
Perhaps even more than to them, the change will matter to same-sex couples in the future, she said.
“There was some sadness when we had the commitment ceremony because we knew it wasn’t going to be legal, and now it will be,” she said. “But I guess for me, looking at the big picture, when I have a niece or nephew or daughter or whoever it is in my family who happens to be gay and wants to get married, they don’t have to grieve over that. They can just go do it. It’s going to become a society norm, and I think that’s important that we get to be treated like normal people, because we are.”