Following the November passage of Referendum 74, Seattle couples were swept into a wedding-planning frenzy, shopping for wedding cakes, ordering invitations, booking reception venues and preparing to apply for marriage licenses when it became legal on Dec. 6, 20 at midnight.
The scramble to the King County Administrative Building came amid a month of celebration that peaked with 133 wedding ceremonies conducted at Seattle City Hall on Dec. 9, the first day on which the couples could wed.
While some chose to immediately formalize their unions, others have chosen to take advantage of the license’s 90-day time limit in order to plan traditional ceremonies. The historic approval of same-sex marriage by popular vote is expected to provide a windfall for area wedding vendors.
Shawn Smith, 41, and his partner, Craig Matthews, 39, were the 16th couple in line on Wednesday evening, arriving at 7:30 p.m. to apply for their marriage license. The energetic pair, originally from Nebraska, has been together 12 years and moved to Seattle 11 years ago.
While the couple considers last month’s historic vote a major victory for the gay community, Matthews, a project manager for the Washington State Dental Association in Fremont, believes there is still progress to be made.
“Discrimination will always be a part of society in the form of attitudes toward LGBT people, no matter what laws are passed. It takes time for people to have a change of mind as far as their views on gay and lesbians,” Matthews explained. “However, the more gays and lesbians people know, the quicker that change will occur. And then you take into consideration the up-and-coming generation.... I think in general, the younger people in our society don't view sexuality as an issue. There have been great strides in attitude changes in the past few years, and I believe those changes will continue to occur.”
Limited shared benefits
Both Matthews and Smith, a service manager for Sutter Home & Hearth, also in Fremont, note that their employers and coworkers are supportive and open to learning about the same-sex marriage issue.
“We’ve just been very excited about being able to get our licenses, and the support we have received has been incredible,” Matthews said. “It has also been a perfect opportunity to further explain the issues of marriage on a nationwide scope, as well as provide information on the exciting announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases in March. Many people don’t realize that a state-issued, same-sex marriage doesn’t automatically qualify you for federal benefits.... They think once you are married, you receive all benefits.”
The couple’s former lack of legal marital recognition was particularly painful two years ago, when Smith’s heart stopped unexpectedly while at the gym. While coincidentally passing by the gym, Matthews was informed that Smith had just been transported to Harborview Medical Center.
“If it wasn’t for me knowing what was going on, nobody would have contacted me about the situation,” Matthews explained. “Harborview was pretty understanding about my wanting to be in the room at all times, and they let me. But when the time came for an important medical decision to be made, they wouldn’t accept me as the decision-maker. Fortunately, I had my domestic-partnership card with me, which allowed me to make the decisions that needed to be made, but for someone else who didn’t have their card with them, the outcome could have been very different.”
The pair will soon attend a party celebrating their marriage, given by Matthews’ coworkers.
“Our coworkers have always been very supportive of us, and we have never felt like we have had to hide anything,” Matthews said. “They provide his dental insurance without any out-of-pocket expense for me and are always happy to see him when he is around. Shawn’s company would check in on me to see how I was doing while he was in the hospital and have always treated us just like any other couple.”
The home life
The church-going couple enjoys domesticity, including their two Siamese cats, Miss Lisa and Sophie.
“We have a strong supportive church life — First Church [Seattle] on Denny Way. In fact, our pastor, [the Rev. Dr.] Sandy Brown, was involved with the commercials in support of R-74,” Matthews said. “I am originally from Kansas and Shawn is originally from Nebraska. Both of our fathers were pastors of conservative churches. Shawn’s immediate family has severed ties with him, though my family continues to carry a strong relationship with both of us, though they don’t agree with the gay lifestyle. Both of us have gay brothers, which seems to be occurring more and more with families where one boy is gay.”
The duo is proud of their adopted home and is optimistic that other states will follow Washington’s lead.
“Because of Washington’s, Maine’s and Maryland’s decisions to allow same-sex marriage, I am hopeful that other states will follow suit,” Matthews said. “It is definitely an exciting time for us and to live in a state that is on the very forefront of the issue. It’s incredible to live in the first state to approve same-sex marriages by a popular vote.”
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