Searching for a more perfect union: Five years after the marriage equality ruling

Jun 10, 2020 at 12:06 pm
Amanda Vinova and Lauren Vinova.  |  Photos by Kathryn Harrington.
Amanda Vinova and Lauren Vinova. | Photos by Kathryn Harrington.

Pride Month this year is different than others. Not only is it the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that legalized same-sex marriage, but it comes just as America has exploded once again with racial tension because of the continued mistreatment of Black people at the hands of police and society in general.

The LGBTQ+ and racial justice movements are separate, but they have parallels.

Indeed, there are millions of people who fall into both categories, and both movements for LGBTQ+ rights and Black rights are quests for equality.

We spoke to four couples who got married or renewed their vows after same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. They fought for years for their relationships to be legally recognized. But they’re still at war with homophobia and over other legal issues such as employment discrimination. And they say they won’t truly be done until everyone is seen as equal: gay people, Black people — all people. “We’ll be fighting until we take our last breaths,” said Tim Love, one of the Louisville plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case.

Love is still fighting

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza-Love. | Photo by Kathryn Harrington. - KATHRYN HARRINGTON
Tim Love and Larry Ysunza-Love. | Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza-Love didn’t ask to be a part of history, but they said yes without hesitation when it invited them in.

Tim and Larry, who are now both 61, started dating in 1980 and cemented their relationship into a civil union in Vermont when they were legally able in 2000. In 2014, when another couple in Kentucky won a court case to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, Tim and Larry asked the lawyers involved whether that meant they could obtain a marriage license, too. The answer was: no.

But the lawyers asked Tim and Larry whether they wanted to be a part of a different case: one that could result in legal same-sex marriages in Kentucky and across the nation.

Their answer was: yes.

“There’s been so many benefits and things that we’ve missed out on over the years that people don’t even notice, just take for granted,” said Tim, “and gay people can’t take advantage of those protections. And so we just wanted to be involved in that, and the rest is history.”

Over the years together, Tim and Larry have had to fight to be recognized as a committed couple, because even though they had been together for decades, they weren’t married. They have had to worry about getting permission to make split-second medical decisions for each other and about what would happen to their property if one of them died. Tim, an assistant manager at Walmart before he retired, never got to go back to school, because he wouldn’t have been able to join Larry’s health insurance plan if he quit work.

So, they decided to keep fighting with a court case, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision legalized same-sex marriage for all in the United States.

But Tim and Larry are still fighting. For statewide legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against Kentuckians based on their sexual and gender identity. And for equality for Black and brown people, who are still being killed by police at higher rates than white people and suffering from other forms of systemic racism.

“We’re not done,” said Tim. “The job is not done, and so we have to keep fighting. We’ll be fighting until we take our last breaths.”

“I can’t believe it’s 2020, and we’re still in the fight for equality for citizens of the United States,” said Larry.

Last Monday, he attended the downtown protests asking for justice for Breonna Taylor and David McAtee, two Black Louisville residents who were recently shot and killed by law enforcement.

“It was a beautiful thing,” said Larry. “You could really feel love there, feel people coming together, all age groups.”

When Tim and Larry met, they were in their early 20s. They found each other at work: The Norton hospital parking garage. After his shift, Larry went home and told his mom that he had found the man that he was going to marry. But the idea of marriage was so impossible that Tim and Larry only talked about it jokingly.

“This is how it’s changed so much,” said Tim.

When he and Larry decided to become a part of the court case for marriage equality, it was a risk. Walmart is a conservative company, said Tim, and he could have lost his job. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and Tim gained everything.

Tim and Larry both attended the oral arguments for their case at the U.S. Supreme Court, but they were in Louisville when the decision was made to legalize same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015.

Larry was at work, watching the results come in on TV with his co-workers. Tim was at home, off work due to a heart issue. They came together at their lawyers’ office downtown before marching with a crowd to the Jefferson County clerk’s office. There, after an initial refusal, they became the first same-sex couple in the county, and possibly the state, to receive a marriage license.

“Then, all of a sudden out of nowhere, the mayor pops up with a bottle of champagne and hands us a bottle of champagne,” said Tim. “And that was amazing.”

Almost four months later, Tim and Larry got married at a “little church on Payne Street”: Clifton Universalist Unitarian.

Nothing much has changed between Tim and Larry since getting married; they’ve been together longer than many straight couples. But, the way they can present each other to the world has shifted. When Tim goes to the doctor’s office, and they ask him who he’s with, he can say “his husband.” Not “partner,” “companion,” “friend,” “buddy” or any of the other words he’s used over the years.

“And I make a point of saying it,” he said. “Not because I’m a smart-ass. Where it’s appropriate I’m going to say it because I want people to know. Even real estate agents or people that you’re dealing with on a day to day basis. I make a point of saying, ‘this is my husband,’ introducing him as my husband. Because people will never get used to the idea of equality until we are visible, and we make it known wherever we can.”

Love is all you need

Missy Story-Jackson and Kaila Story-Jackson.  |  Courtesy of Ann Blake Photography. - Ann Blake
Ann Blake
Missy Story-Jackson and Kaila Story-Jackson.  |  Courtesy of Ann Blake Photography.

Kaila and Missy Story-Jackson’s pure love never needed a legal title to be real, but it was a perk with historic heft. 

The two, now 40 and 46, met at Louisville’s now-closed nightclub Purrswaytions in 2012. Their eyes connected, and so did their souls. Over the next three years, wherever Kaila, a prominent UofL professor, and Missy, a steel mill employee, were — at home or overseas on one of their many vactions — their relationship made life special. When the two got engaged in May 2015, they planned to get married somehow, but the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, which occurred one month later “sure felt good,” said Missy. 

Under the conservative presidential administration of Donald Trump, Kaila and Missy said, they are concerned about society’s perception of LGBTQ+ people. But, they know that if same-sex marriage is overturned, their love will remain. “Even though that is extremely possible it won’t affect my love for Kaila or our marriage,” said Missy. Kaila and Missy, who got married in 2016, lead busy lives and cherish their alone time, so they asked to be interviewed about their relationship via email. Read their responses, edited for length, below:

LEO: When did you both realize that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with each other? Kaila: Dating, like our marriage was exhilarating and thrilling. We always had such a great time going out or staying in. We traveled quite a bit too. I think I knew I wanted to marry Missy when we first traveled together to Puerto Rico.

Missy: Yes!!! We’ve been to Puerto Rico, Florence, Italy, San Francisco, Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, Miami Beach, Hawaii. Our dating life like our married life could actually be an ad for black lesbian travel, lol!!! It’s been the best. I wanted to marry Fancy (my nickname for Kaila) when we first met. I knew that I had met my soulmate.

When same-sex marriage was legalized in Kentucky, what was that day like for you? Missy: I was at work when I heard the announcement that same-sex marriage became legal. Me and Kaila knew that we were going to get married even if it didn’t, but it sure felt good that when we did it was going to be legally recognized.

Kaila: I was down at the courthouse when they announced the decision and I balled crying and hugged the co-host of my Strange Fruit podcast Jaison Gardner and the Fairness Campaign director, Chris Hartman. I never thought it would be legal in my lifetime.

When did you decide to get married? Missy: We got engaged in Florence, Italy in May 2015. The morning of the proposal we missed our train to Venice and decided to soak in the last of Florence and make the most of our last night. After our last dinner in Italy, Kaila checked her phone to remind herself of the time of their flight the following morning.

Kaila: Then when I looked back up at Missy, she was on bended knee with a gorgeous engagement ring. I immediately started crying.

Missy Story-Jackson and Kaila Story-Jackson.  |  Courtesy of Our Photography by Cat, LLC.
Missy Story-Jackson and Kaila Story-Jackson.  |  Courtesy of Our Photography by Cat, LLC.

What was your wedding day like? Missy: It was the best day of my life, truly. So many people came out to enjoy and celebrate in our special day!!! It meant the world to us!!! We had young, old, white folks, black folks, straight, gay, queer and trans folks, as well as both of our families in attendance. We had over 260 attendees total. We were so grateful and overjoyed.

Kaila: We also incorporated many cultures within our wedding. Black popular music culture with our first dance, as well as drag culture lip synching our first dance. Our wedding was extremely diverse as well. It was a wonderfully loving day.

What has marriage been like for you two? Kaila: I feel like since we’ve been married our love has grown stronger over time. More intense. Deeper. It’s been thrilling and humbling for me to see myself fall in love all over again, time and time again, like I have with Missy.

Missy: I think our marriage and love for one another has grown in its intentionality. The choosing each other every day. The different situations and scenarios that draw out the best in your partner is such a delight. To see Kaila and I both grow together and as individuals has been the best change, I’ve seen over time with our relationship.

How do you feel about the current state of LGBTQ rights and quality of life in the U.S.? What do you think the future will be like? Kaila: Under the current administration, LGBTQ+ rights are under attack. Just because laws have been changed doesn’t mean that individual thinking in society has. This has happened in terms of civil rights legislation as well as feminist legislation. Just because marginalized communities ‘make progress’ legislatively doesn’t mean that these same groups have been making progress in terms of individual thinking and behavior. In order to truly make social progress, we need laws and ideology to work in tandem to change the ways in which individuals think about people who are different from themselves. This is where education comes into play for me. We have to change the thought before it becomes a practice. I think one way to do this is to teach others to think critically and differently about themselves and others. This is how I see the work that I do as an educator and activist — destroying discrimination at its root before it becomes a practice by individuals or groups.

Missy: Yep! Everything that Fancy just said!! One of the reasons why I wanted to marry her is because she is so exquisitely brilliant.

A rom-com with struggles

Searching for a more perfect union: Five years after the marriage equality ruling

Greg Mosley and Maurice Zakhir planned their wedding in just four days.They started immediately after same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. The process was a cinematic whirlwind. 

The Louisville Palace agreed to rent out the venue to Greg, now 39, and Maurice, now 37, for free in exchange for using their wedding photos in a marketing campaign. 

At JCPenney, Maurice and Greg found a silver and blue three-piece suit for buy one, get one half off, and Italian shoes, also on sale. 

Around 14 guests came: their close work friends from El Toro, their brothers and, most importantly, their moms as witnesses. Looking back, Maurice has some regrets that their entire circle of friends and family weren’t able to join them. But, Maurice’s father told them, “you guys owe it to yourselves to get this done. And do it now so it can’t be taken away from you.”

Much of Maurice and Greg’s relationship has played out like a rom-com, from their first meeting in 2005, where, in less than 72 hours Maurice abandoned his vow to be closeted for life and the two confessed that they were falling in love with each other, to their engagement on a Mediterranean cruise outside of Rome. But, it’s had its normal couple struggles, and, as Maurice’s father’s advice suggested, their ability to legally marry is the result of a very realistic and very fraught struggle for gay rights in America. 

“Being gay, historically, has always been historically, you’re second class citizen,” said Greg. “You’re less than worthy.” Same-sex marriage legalization, to him, was validation that all love is equal. 

Maurice said, “It’s one step for humans of different backgrounds to be seen as human. Now we’re not being criticized for who we love. We’re one step closer to being human in terms of what’s normal.”

Greg said, “It’s just amazing to think that future generations will be able to find their love as a result of all the fighting that has existed with gay civil rights over the last 56 years.”

click to enlarge Greg Mosley and Maurice Zakhir.  |  Photos by Kathryn Harrington. - KATHRYN HARRINGTON
Greg Mosley and Maurice Zakhir. | Photos by Kathryn Harrington.

There is still work to be done, not only with gay rights, but for Black and human rights in general, Greg continued. 

“It’s just disheartening,” said Greg, referencing persistent police brutality toward Black people, “but it’s also empowering to know that we have to unite not just from a gender or orientation perspective but from a humanitarian, kindness perspective and really stop seeing everyone as different.”

Particularly for gay rights, Maurice and Greg would like to see adoption laws for couples change nationwide. Some state-licensed facilities can refuse to let same-sex couples adopt or foster children if they say doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. Last week, the Trump administration submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that could force states to work with adoption agencies that discriminate against same-sex couples.  

And that’s the next step Maurice and Greg want to take in their life: adopting or fostering children. They’ve gone from  twentysomethings living with their parents in California to business professionals in Louisville with their own home, taking care of four dogs, one cat and Greg’s mom. 

“We’ve worked so hard to build our lives,” said Maurice. “I think, this time, that we want to start sharing that with young ones.”

Five Years And Three kids Later

click to enlarge same-sex marriage
Amanda Vinova and Lauren Vinova. | Photos by Kathryn Harrington.

Lauren Vinova was at work when she realized something was wrong. She and her wife, Amanda Vinova, had recently learned that they were pregnant, and now she was seeing spotting. They rushed to the emergency room, leaving the school they both worked at the time. Everything turned out to be fine with Lauren’s pregnancy, but while she was getting her ultrasound the technician told her and Amanda to pay attention.

“Then, she starts labeling Baby A, Baby B and Baby C,” said Amanda, who is now 35, “and we were like, ‘what?’” They were having triplets. “It was crazy,” said Lauren, now 36. “We were excited, but we were in shock.”

LEO first interviewed Amanda and Lauren in 2017, four months before Lauren gave birth, for a Valentine’s Day issue. On June 7, 2017, Maclyn, Arlo and Lincoln were born. Two identical boys and one girl.

It was four years after Lauren and Amanda first got married in New York in 2013 and almost two years after they renewed their vows in front of a minister dressed like Elvis at the Highlands Tap Room, the day same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015.

Since the triplets’ birth, Amanda and Lauren have moved from Shelbyville to Louisville and built a new house. Amanda now works at Jefferson County Public Schools, and Lauren takes care of the triplets full-time.

Their babies are what has changed the most about their relationship in the five years since same-sex marriage was legalized. They are the beauty of their relationship personified as well as a reminder of the societal issues that Amanda and Lauren still face as a lesbian couple.

Amanda Vinova and Lauren Vinova.  |  Photos by Kathryn Harrington. - KATHRYN HARRINGTON
Amanda Vinova and Lauren Vinova. | Photos by Kathryn Harrington.

Amanda and Lauren always knew they wanted children together, even when they first started dating almost 10 years ago. But they took some time to travel and revel in their relationship alone. When they started trying, it took four years and a dedicated specialist to get pregnant.

The triplets had a “rough start” after they were born, eight weeks early and just over four pounds. But, three years in, “they’re bundles of energy,” Lauren said.

“They’ve grown so much, and they’re so smart,” said Amanda. “They amaze us every day just with the things they come up with and their creativity.” Arlo likes dinosaurs, Maclyn likes to try on his sister’s clothes, and Lincoln loves bugs so much she has to be told not to touch spiders and wasps.

Amanda’s family is “very much” a part of the triplets’ lives, but Lauren’s religious parents have never accepted her relationship with Amanda. They’ve seen the children once. Lauren took them down to Georgia, where here parents live, for a trip to show them what they were missing. It didn’t lead to any more visits.

“It’s definitely they’re loss, and I’ve done what I could,” Lauren said. If Amanda and Lauren had never been legally allowed to get married, they would have had to worry about where the triplets would go if Lauren died since she is the birth parent. Lauren’s parents could have taken the children, since Amanda might not have had the right to.

It’s something Lauren and Amanda have talked about, because it could become a possibility again if the Supreme Court case gets overturned. “These are things we have to think about,” said Amanda. Even now, they know their children will eventually face discrimination, just because they have two moms.

“I wish we could prevent it, but we can’t, and so we just have to empower them to know how to deal with it,” said Amanda. “I hate that they have to be the ones to educate people that are not as open-minded, but maybe that will be their voice in the world,” said Lauren.

For their third birthday, Amanda, a planner, has arranged a dinosaur themed, drive-thru celebration with “Three-rex” T-shirts and a treats table for the drive-by guests. A month before, Amanda and Lauren celebrated their anniversary. They ordered three nights of takeout.

“Of course, the kids ate most of it,” said Amanda.