Not quite three years ago, my boyfriend and I were invited to a wedding in Chicago. It was an intimate, beautiful affair. Only very close friends and family were invited. Everyone was flown to Chicago and put up in a stylish hotel. Every detail was planned to perfection, from meals and drinks to hair and makeup.
During the ceremony, there were tears of happiness in everyone’s eyes as they watched two people they deeply cared about say the sweetest words to each other, vowing to be together for the rest of their lives. There was a pin with a locket attached to represent something old, new and blue and a velvet tuxedo jacket.
At the six-course reception dinner, there were white candles and beautiful white flowers covering the table. Oysters were served, champagne was poured, and joy was everywhere. Toasts were given and vows were made again.
It was amazing and heartwarming and makes me tear up whenever I think about it. However, in the eyes of the law, the resulting union wasn’t a marriage. Because it was two men who said those vows, who pledged to love each other, to be there for each other, for the rest of their lives.
But for Eric Burden (left) and Mike Skradis (right), it was important for their friends and family to bear witness and to know that this is how much they loved each other. Even though theirs was considered a lesser relationship in the eyes of the law, they wanted to share their happiness in it with those they loved.
“My sister sent me a text when the ruling came through, congratulating me on my union finally being recognized,” Skradis said. “But for me, it was already recognized, by the most important people in our lives.”
And isn’t that the reason we get married? To bring friends and family together to celebrate the happiness and joy two people have managed to find together?
Last month, the Supreme Court agreed, and decided it was wrong to go on denying an entire section of our population this very basic right to marry and to pursue their own happiness.
For many people across this country, it was a day they thought they might never get to see. Skradis’ cousin, Beverly Reicks and her partner, Kathy ‘Scout’ Pettersen, were two of those people. That Friday, when the decision was announced, the Benson couple was first in line to get their marriage license in Douglas County. And one of the first same-sex couples to get married in Nebraska, though that wasn’t necessarily the plan.
“We thought we were just getting a license, and we ended up getting married,” said Pettersen.
The couple said the atmosphere was so festive and everyone at the courthouse was so supportive that it just kind of happened. Their friends, Jim and Leslie Cavanaugh, happened to be in the building and stood in as “best couple” for the ceremony.
“It was nice to be able to share that moment,” said Reicks.
And the sharing went on throughout the day. The impromptu wedding lead to an impromptu celebration, which started at La Buvette in the Old Market, where the women ordered a bottle of champagne. They both started laughing as they talked about it.
“You know, it was eleven in the morning, which is crazy. That’s not our usual …” started Reicks. “No, we’ve never done that,” said Pettersen. They told their server to go ahead and pick out a bottle for them. When he asked what they were celebrating they told him they had just gotten married. The unusualness of the situation didn’t seem to sink in at first. So, he served them their champagne, and continued about his job.
“Then he came back a half hour later and he goes, ‘I get it! I just figured out what happened. I just got some tweets from people!’ So then he was all excited about it. It was kind of funny,” said Reicks. “Then everyone there was excited,” Pettersen added.
Sitting in their airy living room reminiscing about the day, their happiness is infectious. Their two dogs, Toklas and Hilda, watch through the large windows facing their back deck, barking only occasionally at not being let in on the fun.
As they talk, Pettersen leans toward Reicks, whose arm is across the back of the sofa. They often touch each other’s arms, hands and shoulders as they tell their story.
The two said they have been together for around six years, though they’ve known each other longer. They met back in 1993, when Pettersen moved to Reicks’ hometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska to open a bookstore. When she moved away three years later, they remained in touch over the years. They said things developed from there, with the two eventually getting together back in 2009.
While all marriages have their difficulties, Pettersen and Reicks said theirs does not require the “hard work” they hear people say is required in order to make a relationship work.
“For us, it doesn’t seem like hard work,” Reicks said. Which is not to say that they’ve never had disagreements, but she said there’s never been one that went on overnight and into the next morning. “It doesn’t seem hard to me. It seems really easy. Like it was meant to be.”
Pettersen agreed. She said she has a daughter from a previous relationship, Mia, 20, who she adopted with a former partner back in 1999. Even in a situation which could be potentially problematic for some families, it seems they have been fortunate.
“She adores Bev,” she said. “She loves calling her ‘her third mother’, or stepmother. Now she can say stepmother, and it’s real.”
Another benefit to the Supreme Court decision is that now they finally know which box to check on forms. Pettersen said this was something she was extremely happy about when they went to sign some financial papers after they were married.
“Finally! I mean this has been going on for years … when I look at those boxes, there’s not one box that applies,” Pettersen said. “It says single, married, divorced, widowed and I was none of those things. I was none of those things. And that bugged me. That bugged me.”
When Reicks said they would have checked single, Pettersen stopped her.
“No, I wasn’t single. I was your partner before we got married. I didn’t consider myself single at all,” she said. “Finally, I could check ‘married.’” Reicks nodded, “That’s right,” she said.
When asked if there is anything they do argue about, both instantly replied with, “The dishwasher,” before dissolving into laughter. “We actually have two of them, that’s the problem,” Reicks said. “It’s an extremely first-world problem, where to put the dirty dishes.”