Gay marriage in Rhode Island, Minnesota is personal, political

Tim Skillern
Yahoo News

Rhode Island and Minnesota on Thursday will become the 11th and 12th states, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriage.

On May 2, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a bill into law permitting same-sex marriage, after several years of legislative and legal fights.

In Minnesota on May 13, Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation legalizing gay nuptials. Notably, voters — just months earlier in the November general election — narrowly rejected a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Before they begin saying "I do" starting at midnight and in the months ahead, Yahoo News talked to several couples in both states about what marriage means to them. Below are a handful of vignettes about their lives, their engagements and their hopes for the future.

View photos

A politically personal battle in Rhode Island

Gay or straight, most folks don't pop the question while watching public-access television.

But that's how Tripp Evans and Ed Cabral of Providence took a big step toward marriage.

On April 24, when the Rhode Island state Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation, Evans, 45, and Cabral, 51, were glued to the TV, watching the vote live.

"We looked at each other," Evans remembers, "and said, 'Who wants to go first?'"

Cabral did, and he asked Evans to marry him.

The couple, active in the battle to legalize same-sex unions, knew they would wed someday, and when their future became a political reality, they didn't wait to get engaged.

"We knew we wanted to make the step as soon as it was legal in Rhode Island. We obviously hoped that [the Defense of Marriage Act] would be struck down, but we didn't see that as another obstacle to getting married here," Evans explains. "We could've got married in Massachusetts years ago or anywhere else in New England, for that matter. But we wanted to get married in Rhode Island. This is where we have built a life together."

Evans has testified in person before the state Legislature in 2009, 2011 and 2013, advocating for equality. But, in a twist, the more it seemed same-sex marriage would happen, the more impatient he grew: "I couldn't [drive by] the Statehouse without my stomach turning. It infuriated me that it took this long."

When legislation moved quickly in 2013, his tune changed.

"We were euphoric when it finally went through the last hurdle in the Statehouse. I am so much less angry than I used to be," he laughs. "It's one thing for our family and friends to be there when we make a formal commitment to each other. But they already accept us as a couple. It's a big deal that the state did."

They'll marry in March in a simple and small ceremony.

"I am the list-maker in the family and the planner, so we have things under control," Evans says. "We talked to wedding planners and they said, "What's your theme?" We said our theme is 'wedding.' So I guess it's going to be a pretty traditional wedding."

View photos

Early-morning ceremony changes little about love

"We've called each other 'husband' for four years," Matthew Sylva says about his relationship with Adan Sylva.

Marrying early Thursday morning at Minneapolis' City Hall does little to change that.

Mayor R.T. Rybak will officiate for 42 couples between midnight and 6 a.m. at the City Hall rotunda, and the Sylvas snagged a 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. time slot. Both Sylvas' parents and four witnesses will attend. Matthew Sylva will wear a gray suit and tie with a vintage flower pattern; Adan will don a navy blue checkered suit and a flower-patterned tie.

But it's not their first wedding, at least from their perspective. In 2009, they held a ceremony — "we called it a wedding," Matthew Sylva says — that married them in their eyes.

So why stay up all night to get hitched again on Thursday?

"The benefits and legalities are what make it so important to us. The sooner we get on that wagon, the better. We didn't intend on being part of the history and [thought], 'When it happens, it happens.'" But after they tried unsuccessfully to find judges to marry them, they grabbed a spot through the mayor's office.

"We're excited to be part of the history that's going down," he says.

During the ceremony, they'll wear origami lilies crafted from photos from their 2009 ceremony, as a nod to their earlier commitment.

But despite the high-profile event and a crush of media interviews, both say they're feeling relaxed.

"Calm. Expectant. 'Thankful' would be the most accurate word — thankful that it's going to happen," Matthew Sylva says.

"It doesn't feel real now," Adan Sylva adds. "When tomorrow hits, there will be butterflies and nerves."

View photos

'Nothing can do that like marriage'

Lisa Kesser came out in the 1970s when gay Americans were, in her words, "doomed to have tragic and lonely lives."

Even her family didn't support her. "All my mother did was equate being a lesbian to being one of the maggots living under a garbage can lid, and [she asked] me not to tell my father because it would kill him," she told Yahoo News in an email this week.

Marriage, she says, wasn't even a passing thought.

It is now.

Together two decades, Kesser, 70, and her fiancée, Dorcey Baker, 56, are planning their wedding in Rhode Island, although they haven't set a date.

"I fell in love, and I'm still in love, and I want to be able to say to myself, to her, and to the rest of the world: 'I am in this for the long haul. I am committed to you and to our future together.' And nothing can do that like marriage," Kesser says.

Baker's proposal to Kesser was spur of the moment. When the Rhode Island state Senate passed an amended version of its same-sex marriage bill on April 24, Baker was in Chicago's O'Hare airport and spotted the news.

"[I] immediately called up Lisa to ask her to marry me," Baker says in an email. "We were so thrilled, so proud of our state and of all the people who worked so hard, for so long, to make this a reality in our lifetimes."

Baker says they'd prefer a simple and informal ceremony. They canoe frequently, so they may choose a riverside location.

"Maybe we'll wear shorts and sneakers," Baker says, "and [our] black Labrador will wear a white bow tie."

Baker noted many of the benefits being married will allow, beyond the philosophical and emotional. She shared a personal example: "A few years back, in spite of Rhode Island Department of Health regulations that give patients the right to say who they want contacted to be with them in the emergency room, Lisa was told she was not allowed to name me as the person to notify after she'd been injured in a bicycle accident. Just having the right regulations wasn't enough. That won't ever happen again once we're married."

View photos

This wedding is one part love, one part 'super-human determination'

Raymond Grenier doesn't need a piece of paper to prove his commitment to Sedonio "Sid" Rodriques, his partner of 14 years.

"What that piece of paper does, though, is to bring us up to speed in the eyes of humanity," Grenier writes in a first-person account for Yahoo News this week.

Grenier, 59, and Rodriques, 63, will marry Saturday in Rhode Island.

"For Rhode Islanders who previously were not permitted to marry under the law, this means a deep sigh of relief," Grenier says. "For some, the new law means no longer living in a closet. For most, it garners a sense of recognition and pride. For all, it signifies equality."

But it's been a rocky journey to equality, he says.

"When enough people tell you you are sick or maladjusted or just plain wrong, those thoughts fester and have a way of coloring your self-image," he says. "Rising above those impressions, particularly within the paradigm of confrontation, would require what might be considered a super-human determination."

They will wed in a ceremony with a Native American theme "complete with a ceremonial dancer at the campfire, smoke signals to Great Spirit, drumming and authentic musical selections." They've designed their wedding programs with individualized animal spirit guides. Their desserts — cupcakes with medallions of 44 different Native American animal symbols — will match their theme.

Most of their wedding guests are not gay, which may surprise some, Grenier says: "They are our family and friends who respect us and love us just the way we are. And we love them back."

View photos

Marriage in Minnesota, DOMA defeat a 'double dose of happiness'

Minneapolis allows same-sex couples to invite up to 25 guests to their wedding ceremonies.

Jen Trudeau and Kristyen Kerns, who will marry between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., will welcome just eight.

"The 2 o'clock to 3 a.m. [time slot] is kind of a hard sell," Kerns jokes.

But marrying Thursday was important to Trudeau, Kerns says: "Jen wanted to be part of the community and the celebration. She wanted to celebrate with a bunch of like-minded people."

Kerns, 28, will wear dress pants and a black vest and tie. Trudeau, 41, will wear a casual dress with lace. Their co-workers, friends and Trudeau's cousin will attend.

The couple, who've been together for six years and engaged for four, and raise their 6-year-old boy together, said they were astonished at how fast the law changed.

Kerns says, "I was pretty surprised, especially when it happened so close to the [Supreme Court's June rulings on same-sex marriage]. That was exciting to get a double dose of happiness at once. Our marriage was not only going to be recognized in Minnesota but federally."

But Kerns doesn't think life will change much. "I always felt like I was married to her, regardless of what a piece of paper said," she says. "But to be able to say we're married is very exciting."

View photos

A marriage 37 years in the making

Meri Gauthier, 59, and Janice Culnane, 60, have been engaged all 37 years they've been together.

That long wait will end sometime between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Thursday when they marry at Minneapolis' City Hall.

"We wanted to get married right away, so this is the longest engagement," Gauthier says. "Why tomorrow? It's because of the 37 years. I don't want to wait any more. I don't want to wait an hour more."

Twenty-five guests will attend the wedding which, for the couple, is largely about civil rights in Minnesota.

"I am over the moon," Gauthier says. "We understand civil rights work is our life's work. We are going to educate our children to carry it on. But we don't want to burn out. When you have happy days, it's wise to enjoy those happy days. And we are — thoroughly."

"I love Meri," Janice says. "Meri and I have gone through a lot of fun and enjoyable times. We've raised three children. We've had so much fun doing this. There isn't anyone else I would have wanted to do that with."

Even after nearly four decades together, the couple have never worn rings, but they'll exchange them in a few hours.

"Mine is a yellow gold band with channel settings of diamonds," Culnane says.

Gauthier adds, "Mine is a gold ring with a little blue sapphire in it — because Jan's eyes are blue."