Marriage equality has been decades in the making for local same-sex couples, but when it came to Colorado in October, they met the news with surprise and excitement.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on same-sex marriage bans in five states Oct. 6, opening the door to gay marriage in Colorado.
Across the country, the scales seem to be tipping in favor of marriage equality. Same-sex marriage is legal in more than 30 states with judges striking down bans in Mississippi and Arkansas at the end of November.
In Texas, the county clerk for the San Antonio area said he was ready to start issuing licenses Wednesday, pending a decision by the judge for the western district of the state, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The national trend toward equality for gay couples is one locals appreciate.
“I think we’re winning the battle little by little,” said Patrick Valentine, who legally married his partner Oct. 8.
In May 2013, civil unions for same-sex couples became legal across Colorado.
“It was a step up, and it was good. It was not the same as getting married,” said Chris Gonzalez, who married her partner of 16 years in October.
Gonzalez and her wife, Nancy Fritz, went to the La Plata County Clerk & Recorder’s Office to get the paperwork for their marriage license Oct. 22. But when they entered the building, they got so excited at the prospect of finally being married that they signed the paperwork on the spot. It felt like a miracle, they said.
“We didn’t think we would ever see it,” Fritz said.
Durango residents Anita Blanchard and Diane McMullin said they have been married in their hearts for 21 years and signed the legal paperwork Oct. 9 to make it official in the eyes of the state. After decades of commitment, they were happy to have the same legal protections as straight couples.
“It has been a hard road when you look back on it,” McMullin said.
She realized that she was different as a child and later feared being kicked out of a rental home or losing her job because of her orientation.
It wasn’t until 1991, when she was in her early 50s, that she felt truly comfortable being open with everyone about her orientation.
“That’s a long time to hide something,” McMullin said.
The next year, she fought a state constitutional amendment, which would have prevented people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from claiming they were discriminated against, among other things.
Blanchard and McMullin said they were heartened when the amendment failed in La Plata County. The law passed statewide, but was later blocked by the courts.
They have long felt at home here. Even in the 1970s, Blanchard felt as though she had found allies in Durango.
Other local couples had very different personal journeys. Gonzalez and Fritz realized that they were gay after failed marriages.
For Gonzalez, it was simple.
“I would never marry a man again,” she said.
Fritz had an epiphany at a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays meeting. She decided to go after her daughter came out as a lesbian. Sitting there seeing a loving lesbian couple, something changed within her.
Two years later, she met Gonzalez, and the connection seemed natural.
“We understand each other better because we’re both women,” she said.
Valentine, who has been with his husband, Lawrence Broadway, for 15 years, had a similar experience. Until he was 50, he tried to live what he thought was an upstanding heterosexual life and worked at a major corporation.
“There was no place to come out without being ostracized,” he said.
When he came out, he found life far more refreshing. Now, years later, he sees the country shifting toward enshrining full equality.
“It’s time for everyone to have a share at a piece of the happiness pie,” he said.