Fear, it shadowed my parents' relationship from the first day they met until the day my father died.
It was a companion that offered protection and compassion, and also comfort. You see, my mixed race parents weren’t supposed to marry. According to one particular judge, they weren’t even supposed to be around each other at all. But, to my parents, some old antiquated thinking was not going to keep them apart. Despite being called “a n----r lover” or a “whore,” my parents were not going to let the military or the courts keep them from doing what hundreds of thousands of couples do: get married.
Now, here I am some 50 years later walking their same path. For me, fear is a constant companion. No, it isn’t paralyzing, but it is always beside me as I look at my wife. You see, the laws and judges decided my wife and I shouldn’t be together. As a matter of fact, according to many, we weren’t even supposed to be near each other, never mind married. But, for me, that old antiquated thinking wasn’t going to keep me apart from my wife.
Two couples, nearly 60 years apart, but very close. You see, my parents were mixed race, and their kind were not supposed to get married. And then there’s me, a bi-racial lesbian who wants nothing else but to marry Robin. But, just like my parents, I wasn’t going to marry someone that society or the courts or a judge said I should marry, We all made a decision in our lives to go against the law, to marry someone we loved, and not someone society said we should.
My father’s words of advice still resonate with me to this day. He said, “Sue, Be courteous, but stand tall in the face of anger, hate and reluctance to change. You might go backwards one day and forwards another, but just keep moving”.
This is our life story, our love story.
We flew to Provincetown, Massachusetts, the mecca for LGBT marriages, and easily located the marriage license office. But when they put the official piece of paper in front of me to sign before the 3-day waiting period, I found myself choking up. Then through tears of joy, and feeling the spirit of my mother and father, I signed, pressing extra hard, wanting to make sure no one would question whether or not that was my signature. I thought of what my parents must had felt when they signed their marriage certificate, and all of a sudden I understood their struggle. I flashed back to when I was growing up and remembered everything they had gone through. I now knew why they fought so hard to protect us, why they worked so hard on their marriage and why they loved so hard. I finally got it. They knew their marriage was illegal in some places but they didn’t care because as my father had told me, it was between the two of them. I looked up at Robin, and I knew that this moment and our marriage was between the two of us. It didn’t matter what other people thought, only what we thought and that this was the right decision, for all the right reasons.
On May 24th, 2010, Robin and I said our vows. Our ceremony surprised everyone, so none of our family was there in person, but they were all with us in spirit. On a bright sunny day near one of the beaches in Provincetown, Robin and I did what made us happy, and hopefully made my parents proud. I know that I was proud. As I looked into Robin’s eyes, through happy tears streaming down my face, we pledged to love each other.
Those vows took on special meaning because we knew that although we affirmed them, our employers or state legislators in Arizona could challenge our marriage as soon as we landed back home. But still, for those brief beautiful moments, we felt “normal” and accepted by everyone, even the people who honked at us in support when they realized that a wedding was happening in the middle of the day. Here I was, a biracial lesbian, marrying a white lesbian, two people that laws, past and present, said should never marry. But we were determined to get married and challenge the law, and live life as my parents did, filled with love, courage and strength.
Our post-wedding dinner included Kathleen and Alicia, the owners of the bed and breakfast where we were staying. We had become fast friends, and they had agreed to stand as our witnesses. We couldn’t have asked for better people. As we sat in the restaurant drinking champagne and celebrating, a couple walked up to our table. The woman asked if we had gotten married that day, and we beamed and said “yes.” I’m sure she could hear the pride and determination in our answer, and we braced ourselves for her response. Even in liberal P-Town I wasn’t sure if a straight couple would be supportive. Then the woman’s husband said “congratulations” and we collectively exhaled. He said that they had seen us out on the beach earlier in the day exchanging our vows and just wanted to wish us a happy future! I could feel myself starting to tear up again for like the 40th time that day as we thanked the couple for their well wishes. Something so simple as a “congratulations” meant so much to us in that moment.
Two days later we left the safety of Provincetown and returned to Arizona, a place that historically has not opened its arms to groups of people who are different. There, not only was same-sex marriage illegal, but it was one of the states that took the extra step of putting their own law on the books defining marriage as between a man and a woman. So, we held hands as the plane landed at Sky Harbor airport, got our bags and walked silently to our car. We knew we were home, and that things had changed.
As we drove around the corner towards our house, something was different. We noticed decorations on our garage door. Our neighbors from across the street were excited about our “change in status,” that we’d posted on Facebook and wanted to welcome us home. When I saw the ribbons and signs congratulating us, again I began to tear up. OK, I am a big mush, but it meant so much that the couple who we had met just a few years earlier and who didn’t understand a lot about the LGBT community was willing to learn and accept us and welcome us home in a way we would never forget. When we rolled up to our driveway, we felt like they understood how big a deal this was and were saying, “Welcome to the marriage club.”
Excerpted from The Marriage Battle: A Family Tradition by Susan Green and Robin Phillips. Reprinted courtesy Villarosa Media.