Friday, March 12, 2004

Couple marries as judges debate

Local women 'dance as one'

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sandy Allen couldn't sleep Wednesday night, the eve of her wedding.

Her betrothed was wired, too. They whispered until 7 a.m.

"My feelings vacillate back and forth," said Allen, 47. "I'm so excited I want to dance and sing and throw my arms around people in the street. And then there are times when I realize I don't even know where I'm supposed to stand in the ceremony."

Allen and her partner, Pam Wright, 49, sealed their union with a kiss Thursday afternoon at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

The College Hill couple is among the first from Cincinnati to be married in a recent flurry of same-sex unions across the country.

They will also be among the last to be married in San Francisco.

As they stood before the minister, the California Supreme Court voted unanimously to order San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to stop distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

More than 3,700 gay couples have been married in the city since Feb. 12.

The gay-marriage spotlight also shone Thursday on Massachusetts, where lawmakers debated the Supreme Judicial Court's authorization to begin issuing gay marriage licenses May 17. The state was the first to deem marriages legal for same-sex couples. But Massachusetts lawmakers give preliminary approval Thursday to a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage but allow civil unions.

Nationally, the debate continues to rage. Several other cities followed San Francisco's lead, and President Bush said he would back a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriages.

Couples like Allen and Wright have been watching the news with a mixture of hope and fear.

"It's agonizing," Allen said. "You can't plan your marriage at all. The minute you hit 'enter' on (to purchase airline tickets), you might have just spent $500 for no reason."

The women traveled a long road to the short walk down the aisle.

They've been a couple for 14 years. Together they've raised two daughters - one a student at Ohio University, the other a senior at Walnut Hills High School. They share a small, but perfect, Cape Cod house.

"I'm a 'love grows better in little places' kind of person," Allen said.

When the couple first met, Wright was in a traditional marriage and Allen lived in Michigan. They were afraid, but in love.

"I had such a strong feeling this relationship could work, I was willing to take the risk," Allen said.

Since then, they've been active in their community. Both are nurses in Cincinnati. They are avid dancers - they taught country line dancing seven years, they run the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Out and About ballroom dancing group, and they are training to dance in an upcoming Gay Games.

They are members of St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church in Clifton, a house of worship that embraces the gay community.

The congregation has been so supportive of the Allen-White nuptials, some members pulled out their checkbooks to help defray the cost of a church wedding.

"It's very exciting. There's no question in my mind that they are a couple," said Rev. Frank Carpenter of St. John's. "They are taking their destiny in their own hands."

Marriage is a big step, Carpenter said - a step he is proud to see people take seriously.

"Any marriage is important, because you're really making a serious commitment," he said. "You're not only standing in front of your friends, you're getting the body and weight of the state behind you. It's a life commitment."

For Allen, marriage legitimizes the relationship in the eyes of society.

"On a real personal level, it comes up at work all the time. People ask if I'm married, and every single time that comes up, I freeze for a second," she said. "I think they're really asking, 'Do you have a family? Do you have a partner you're going through life with? Are you happy?' To say no would be lying."

Wright called marriage "hetero privilege."

"And I didn't know what hetero privilege was until I lost it," she said, detailing the lack of legal rights between committed gay couples. "My relationship is stronger than most straight relationships I've seen. We're best friends."

The two are heading back to Cincinnati today. They didn't have the luxury of time to plan a honeymoon.

They say marriage has already solidified the bond between them.

"It's brought some new energy into the relationship," Allen said. "You think about yourself from a new perspective. I'm thinking more honestly, in newly-in-love kind of ways."

Doreen Beatrice, director of Step-N-Out dance studio in Covington, has had a number of couples spin through her doors. That includes Allen and White, who are studying international ballroom.

"A lot of wedding couples come in here, and it's very interesting to see relationships through dance," she said. "You have to be doing your own part, but you still have to work together. You have to be dancing as one."

Allen and White, she said, dance as one.


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