Avery Steele has known since she was 10 that there was something different about her. Growing up in Davis, California, she hung out with her girlfriends and talked about boys just like they did--but inside, it felt false. In high school, she dated guys, but she wasn't really into it. "I was attracted to them, but when it came to holding hands or hugging or anything, I'd be like, 'No! Go away!'" says Avery, now 18. "I was chicken." But it was more than typical teenage nervousness: Avery liked girls.
Avery never told anyone her secret. Then, when she started her freshman year at California State University, Fullerton, in September 2003, she decided to attend a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Association meeting on campus. But when she got there, she freaked. She stood outside the door for 20 minutes until finally, she entered the room. first love
Avery left the meeting feeling good about herself--she'd finally been around people who had the same feelings she did, and she didn't feel so different anymore. She didn't meet anyone special at the meeting, but that wasn't what she was looking for anyway. Over the next two weeks, Avery kept running into this one girl she'd met--Nikki Wu, a freshman from Fountain Valley, California. Finally, one day on campus, Nikki asked Avery for her phone number. They met for lunch a few days later and got into a serious political discussion. They knew at that moment that they liked each other. "She was smart," Avery recalls. "I was so happy."
They made plans to go to lunch again the very next day, and the day after that, they had dinner. When Avery dropped Nikki off at her dorm after that third date, Nikki leaned over and said, "I really want to kiss you." Avery wasn't sure she was ready for that, but Nikki sensed that part of her really did want to--so she kissed her. And Avery tenderly kissed her back.
Over the next few months, they saw each other a lot, and in December, Nikki moved out of her campus dorm and into Avery's off-campus apartment. They became inseparable, and when they'd go to work--Avery at Disneyland, Nikki at Kinko's--they'd miss each other intensely. "When we'd get home, it was like, 'Finally--that took forever!'" says Avery. By February, Nikki was totally in love. "I just knew this was going to be really long-term," she says. She was so sure about her feelings that on February 12, when news started spreading that San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she immediately suggested they head north to tie the knot. Avery was hesitant. She didn't want to rush things--after all, they were only 18. But she also didn't want to miss out on the opportunity. "We didn't want to be engaged for 10 years waiting for this to come around again," Avery explains. So a week later, they booked a flight to San Francisco. race against time
Four hundred miles away, people were already lining up at San Francisco City Hall. Mayor Gavin Newsom had begun allowing same-sex marriages. "We have an obligation under the equal protection clause of the Constitution to do what's right--treat people fairly with dignity on an equal basis regardless of their sexual orientation," he argued. More than 4,000 couples from 46 states and 8 countries flocked to the city to take advantage of his liberating decision.
Although Avery's mom had been supportive of her relationship with Nikki, Avery knew she'd say they were too young, so she didn't tell her about their plans to get married. And Nikki's parents were mostly out of the picture--after she came out to them at age 13, they became abusive, and Nikki moved into a group home. But they did tell their friends about their marriage plans. While most of them were supportive, one friend of Avery's tried to change her mind. "You're being absolutely ridiculous!" she said. "You're only 18, and you hardly even know her."
But Nikki and Avery were determined. On February 23, after they bought their plane tickets, they went online to make an appointment at City Hall. But to their surprise, the calendar was full for the next two months. They checked the Web site every day--and on March 5, they finally found an opening. "Oh my God!" Nikki screamed. "There's a spot open on March 17!" They snagged it--and went out to buy matching wedding bands with "Lucky Me" etched inside, in honor of St. Patrick's Day. They cleared their schedules and packed their bags.
On March 11, just four days before their flight, Avery saw a newspaper headline that said that the California State Supreme Court had ordered Mayor Newsom to stop the ceremonies. "I bought the paper thinking maybe there was more to the story," she recalls. But when she read the article, she realized it was true. "She was really upset," Nikki remembers. "I told her this just meant it wasn't the right time."
The window closed on Avery and Nikki's nuptials because many people--including groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Family Research Council--believe that marriage is meant to be only between a man and a woman. They called Mayor Newsom's actions radical--and the controversy got so bad that the California State Supreme Court ordered Mayor Newsom to stop allowing same-sex marriages until it reviewed the law. If the court decides that same-sex marriage is against state law, those 4,000-plus weddings could be ruled invalid--and all those couples won't be considered married in the eyes of the law.
But Nikki and Avery still have hope that at some point they'll be legally recognized as a couple. The day they found out that the city was ordered to discontinue issuing marriage licenses, Nikki decided to show Avery that she believed they'd eventually be married. "I got down on one knee and said, 'Will you marry me?'" recalls Nikki. Avery said yes--then proposed back. While the government is deciding their fate, they're wearing the rings they bought as wedding bands as engagement rings instead. mrs. and mrs. austin
Jami Antwan and Angle Austin, both 20, got the precious marriage license, but it still might not do them any good. The two met in high school in Daly City, California, just south of San Francisco, and quickly became best friends. They both had boyfriends--but when they talked to each other about their relationships, they'd get jealous. "It felt strange," says Angle. "You're always supposed to be happy for your best friend." Then one day in class junior year, their true feelings came out. "We were passing flirty little notes," says Angle. "Then I wrote this note that said 'What is this exactly? Do we want it to continue?'" Jami says she was confused by the note--but in a good way.
Both Jami and Angle say the relationship just evolved naturally after that. They never really discussed the note or talked about "what they were"--they just fell in love. They don't like to discuss how it happened because they shy away from labeling themselves--as lesbians or anything else. "We've never been able to define ourselves," explains Angle. "We fell in love with each other as people, not sexes. She could have been a purple alien, and I would have loved her anyway."
When they graduated from high school in 2002, Jami and Angle moved in together and started attending classes at City College of San Francisco. And in February, when Angle read in the newspaper that same-sex couples were getting marriage licenses, she decided to propose. "I told her I loved her and couldn't live without her," Angle says. Then she popped the question. Recalls Jami: "I said, 'Sure.' And I smiled."
The next day, February 14, they went to City Hall and jumped in line with hundreds of other same-sex couples eager to marry. "It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen," Angle says of the scene. People of all ages--some of them with their kids--stood in the line, which wrapped all the way around the building. Since neither Angle nor Jami is close to her family, they only had each other--but they enjoyed it being such a private moment. "It was a cool thing to do," says Jami, who has changed her last name to Austin. "To be a part of something--a part of history." Unlike Nikki and Avery, they were able to get married before the ban--but now they worry about their union remaining valid. No matter what happens, though, they'll always have a scrap-box filled with souvenirs from the day they said their vows and heard the words "I now pronounce you partners for life." And they take comfort in the fact that no one can change the past. "We'll always have the paper," says Angle. "No matter what people say, we're married." powerful piece of paper
But Angle worries about not having the benefits that come with marriage. There are over 1,000 federal laws affected by marital status, including Social Security benefits, adoption, immigration, and medical insurance. That's why gay-marriage advocates say that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unfair. Right now, it's up to each state to decide--and so far, only Massachusetts has declared same-sex marriage legal (at press time, legislators were considering amending the state constitution to change that). But many cities have been testing state law: In February, New Paltz, New York, mayor Jason West began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, just as Mayor Newsom had. Officials in Multnomah County, Oregon, followed in March. But like California, New York and Oregon are now reviewing the validity of those marriages. And while the definition of marriage is up in the air, Benton County, Oregon, is making its point by not issuing marriage licenses to anyone--even straight couples.
Many politicians, including President George W. Bush, want to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage nationally--but many who want this ban, including President Bush, support "civil unions" with some benefits, but not the term marriage. Civil unions are currently legal in the state of Vermont. my two moms
While the debate rages on, Marina Gatto, 15, sits at home in San Carlos, California, worried that she might lose her family. Marina's father was never really in her life--it was just her and her mom, Ramona. Then one day when Marina was 9, her mom said, "I'm going on a date--with a girl." Ramona had raised her daughter to be open-minded, so Marina wasn't fazed. And when she saw her mom with Arzu Akkus, she knew it was right: "My mom was so happy with her--the pieces of a puzzle just fit."
Six years later, on February 13, 2004, at 5:30 a.m., Marina sat on the steps of San Francisco City Hall with her two moms, unable to believe that their love was finally going to be recognized legally. "As my moms recited their vows, the three of us began to cry," Marina says. "It was one of the most wonderful, unforgettable moments of my life."
A problem remains: Arzu, a criminal justice student, isn't a U.S. citizen. In August, her visa is up for renewal. If she were in love with a man, she could marry him--and as the wife of a U.S. citizen, she'd be allowed to stay. But she fell in love with a woman, so her future is uncertain. That's why when the Gatto family heard about Mayor Newsom's decision, they rushed to be first in line. But if the California Supreme Court rules their marriage invalid, Arzu might have to go back to Germany.
Marina has been through too much to see her family destroyed. Growing up, she faced a lot of hatred--especially in her Catholic middle school. "The priests spoke about how homosexuality was wrong and told me that my mom was going to hell," Marina says. And during a family tree project in seventh grade, the teacher made her choose only one mom and make up an imaginary father. Some of her friends have been hurtful too, saying things like "Is your mom going to hit on me?" But Marina quickly learned how to deal with that sort of thing. "Well, if I went over to your house, would your dad hit on me?" she'd reply.
Marina tries to use these opportunities to explain to people that her family is not that different (and that her moms won't "turn" her gay). And she hopes the courts will see how their decision will affect kids like her. "Marriage is so important to me--without it, my family could be torn apart," she says. And that just doesn't make sense to Marina. "I don't think genes make a parent at all," she says. "Love makes a family."