Editor’s note: This is part two in a series of stories about the legalization of same-sex marriage in Alaska.
By Jenny Neyman
Of course life isn’t a fairy tale. What you want isn’t always what you get. Finances, illnesses, responsibilities, logistics — all can create insurmountable obstacles to one’s ideal scenario. Tammie Willis and Isabelle Boutin get that. They’re realistic. They know there’s no silver spoons or platters. They expected sacrifices to be made in order to make a life together.
But they didn’t feel like they should have to accept not even being able to try — being denied the right to even attempt to construct their life the way they wanted it. In the U.S., that land of the free, as gay people, they didn’t have the same opportunity as straight couples to even pursue the happiness of living in a place they love with the person they love.
“There is this segment of people in leadership positions who think it’s OK to deny one subgroup of people their rights because their beliefs are different. That’s the hard part for me,” Willis said.
Willis, originally from Virginia, moved to the central Kenai Peninsula by way of Oklahoma going on two years ago, taking a job as associate director of residence life at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus as the new residence hall was being built.
She quickly fell in love with the place and wanted to share it with the person she loved, but couldn’t. Boutin, an information technology specialist, is originally from Canada and had been working in Australia for 17 years. The two met through their mutual interest in online gaming. Their strategizing in “Star Wars: The Old Republic” expanded to conversations about other things, and a relationship developed via email, text messages and Skype. By the time Willis took the job at KPC, they were already strategizing a way to be together in the real world, not just online. They visited each other, and Boutin was as taken with Alaska as Willis had been.
“I really love the community around here, how friendly people are. When I visited and when I went back to Australia, that’s what I kept in my mind, ‘Wow, the people are so friendly.’ I just find people are really, really accepting,” Boutin said.
While the federal Defense of Marriage Act was still in place in the U.S., their options were limited. In order to live in the country, Boutin would have to immigrate, but she couldn’t get a K-1 fiancé visa with Willis as her intended spouse.
“There are 1,138 rights, benefits or privileges afforded to people who are married, and gay people (before the DOMA decision) had none of them,” Willis said.