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Feeling visible: filing together as a married lesbian couple should

kirsten-maria-june-lesbian-wedding-decatur

It’s tax day, and I’m feeling visible, which is a pretty damn spectacular feeling for someone who has felt invisible in her country for the past five years of being married to the woman I love. We have been together for 10 years, married for five, and, in the legal eyes of New York and every other state that recognizes marriage equality, we’ve been legally married for almost three years.

I can’t say I love tax day now. Who loves tax day besides the IRS and the accountants who make a steal of a living off of us? Nobody else! But this year, my wife and I were able to file our federal taxes together. It was huge! A victory! I feel accomplished and validated and recognized—our love is real, it is tender, it is meaningful. We make our home together. We’ve made two children together. We are in love and, most of the time, we like each other, too.

Last year, in June 2013, SCOTUS declared that the federal government would recognize our marriage if we had been issued a legally recognized marriage certificate. My wife and I, who live in Georgia, had flown to New York in August 2011, to become legal spouses. What did that mean for us as Georgians and Americans? Nothing on a technical level. Not on the surface, at least. But it recorded our relationship and commitment to each other in a legal form that suddenly was no longer discriminatory. But more than that, it enabled us to be seen as a valid couple by society at large.

Every time I am able to tell a Georgia resident that I have a wife—and they pause but say nothing or they look me square in the eye and say, “Is that legal now?” I am afforded an opportunity to gracefully share a learning experience that my wife and I are just the same as that person and their spouse, and we deserve equal marriage rights.

maria-kirsten-lesbian-legal-marriageOftentimes, nothing more is said. It’s not needed. No one wants to be lectured to. Not my 3-year-old sons, and not the 40-year-old cashier at my grocery store who just asked me if one of my children looks like his daddy. I take a more vocal stand when I can, going on CNN to discuss marriage equality, writing letters to my senators, reporting on marriage equality news and showcasing same-sex weddings in our magazine, giving visibility to lesbian, gay, trans and queer couples. But in my day-to-day life outside of Equally Wed, my stand is subtle yet strong: I live my love out loud. Even in Georgia, where our marriage is not recognized in the slightest bit.

Thank goodness we were able to both become legal parents of the children we created and are raising with love and devotion. We took great legal and financial measures to ensure that we have all the legal powers we need to make decisions for each other and our children should we ever need to. But if Maria and I were able to have marriage equality in Georgia, we wouldn’t have to get those documents drawn up or shell out thousands of dollars to acquire the protections our straight neighbors are afforded the moment they sign their marriage licenses. And there are many counties in this state where we dare not travel without these papers.

It is my sincere hope that we will have a bill for marriage equality in Georgia drafted soon (Karla Drenner, I’m looking at you, dear). The state’s constitution explicitly banned gays and lesbians from legally marrying in Georgia in 1996. Because it wasn’t enough to just not allow it before then. They had to get it written into their books, dammit. Before the crazy gays took over marriage and burned their traditions of love and long-lasting commitment to the ground! We make up less than 4 percent of the population of this country, and even if we were larger in number, I just cannot understand the threat to humanity of letting us marry each other. For the love, it’s not like we’re asking for the legal rights to forcing a straight person to be married to us. Oh, I could go on and on. But one day soon, I hope we do have countrywide marriage equality. I am so thankful to the work that Freedom to Marry, the HRC and many other organizations are doing on a national level, and that Georgia Equality is doing on a state level. To that end, Georgia Equality has set up a petition for Georgia to allow legally married same-sex couples to file state taxes together. If you’re a tax payer in Georgia, we could use your voice. Please add your name to it!

We have much work to do, but I am reveling in the victory of filing our federal taxes together. Commence happy dancing feet!

Photos: Our Labor of Love, Entwined Studio

This article was first published on equallywed.com on April 15, 2014.

Equally Wed, Portfolio, writing

Real Wedding: Brooke and Joana

Love-filled seaside nuptials punctuate an aquatic-colored DIY wedding

brooke-joana-real-lesbian-beach-wedding-florida-recessional

Joana Rodriguez was waiting for the perfect opportunity to propose to her girlfriend Brooke Rollins. She already had the engagement ring, which featured a square peridot gemstone to match Brooke’s sparkling eyes, and, conveniently, her birthstone.

“It was a Sunday morning and we were in the middle of mountains of homework as always,” recalls Joana, “and the movie ‘Up’ by Pixar was playing in the background. The movie is about a man who loses his soul mate after years and years of marriage, but lives out her dream of adventures. They meet as children and are together for a very long time. The husband is a quiet kinda person, as I am, and the wife is talkative and full of life, as is Brooke. At one point in the movie when they are still children Lilly, the wife, looks at the husband and says that she wants to spend forever with him having adventures, it was then that I pulled out the ring from my pajama pocket and asked Brooke if she would spend forever having adventures with me. As I expected, she was overjoyed and full of excitement and began to cry, so I giggled and asked, ‘So I guess this means yes?’ She then answered with a ‘yes.’”

When planning their beach wedding, Decatur, Ga., residents Brooke Rollins and Joana Rodriguez searched everywhere for an LGBT-friendly venue. The lesbians found it at the Atlanta Pride Festival: The Embassy Suites in Miramar Beach, Fla.

“I am not going lie,” says Joana, whose confident presence was what attracted Brooke to her. “I was afraid that it was going to be difficult to find a place that we could be ourselves and celebrate and relax all at the same time. It was at Pride that we found the Embassy Suits; it was there that I realized that discrimination can be set aside and your love can be celebrated. Go where you are welcome, and you will have the time of your life.”

To honor their commitment, Brooke, who legally took Joana’s last name after the nuptials, devoted a considerable amount of effort to bringing to life their theme of an eclectic mix of modern vintage with personal touches added to reflect their individual personalities, such as Brooke’s handcrafted vintage brooch bouquet and a superhero-themed cake for Joana.

The bride and broom (a term for masculine brides coined by Equally Wed Magazine Publisher and Cofounder Maria Palladino and used by readers, including Joana) wed on May 5, 2012, at a sunset beach ceremony which included gathering words, guest declaration of support and the exchanging of vows and rings. “The focus of our ceremony was the tying of the lover’s knot, which symbolized the intertwining our lives and our families,” says Brooke. “With one strand of natural fiber manila line—a nod to Joana’s service in the Coast Guard—each of us did our part to create the fisherman’s knot, also known as the lover’s knot.”

The bride wore a sweetheart gown with a beaded bodice and layered organza skirt, which was given a funky update with a turquoise crinoline skirt made by Ann Swank at Swank Underpinnings. The look was complete with her turquoise-and-green ballet flats. Brooke carried a bouquet of her own making: She wired 30 vibrantly colored antique and new brooches and assembled them together to make “a small, but surprisingly hefty nosegay,” she says. “The brooches were given to me by my mother, my wife-to-be and my friends, and each brooch held personal meaning. My bouquet took seven months of assembly, four packages of floral wire and two rolls of tape, a box of band-aids and one scare—or maybe two. It was worth every ounce of effort and all of the love that went into it.”

A jovial reception accentuated by turquoise and green included a photo booth complete with props for wacky photos, tables outfitted with handmade centerpieces comprised of silver charges, turquoise French flower pots filled with dried hydrangea and greenery accented by one antique tea cup and saucer from Brooke’s grandmothers collection and three LED pillar candles; the dinner buffet which featured Joana’s mothers Mexican feast for a Cinco de Mayo-themed celebration and a homage to Joana’s heritage; a bar, a candy and cupcake buffet, a cake table and a reception table. Brooke surprised Joana, a devout superhero fan, with a four-layer cake featuring Captain America, Superman, Spiderman and Batman, accompanied with a handmade background of a cityscape equipped with city lights.

Brooke and Joana danced together for the first time as wife and wife to Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” sung live by Jamie Heart and accompanied by acoustic guitarist Kato Estill. Heart and Estill, both friends of the couple, sang songs of their own and covers at various points in the evening.

After the wedding reception, the Rodriguezes and their 38 guests oohed and aahed over a display of fireworks on the beach and then let the ocean air carry away biodegradable paper lanterns into the sky, which Brooke says symbolized “our wishes for our healthy, happy future.”

The Rodriguezes, who honeymooned in Sandestin, Fla., welcomed a healthy baby girl on May 14, 2013.

A version of this article was published in Atlanta Gay Weddings, 2012/13.

VENDORS
Photographers: Alisha Sams of Imaginarium Studios, Kory Garner of Faux Toe Images
Venue and Caterer: The Embassy Suites, Miramar Beach, FL
Cake: Melissa Donovan
Cupcakes: Over the Top Cupcakes, Stuart, FL
Vocalists, guitarist: Jamie Heart, Kato Estill
Attire: David’s Bridal (Brooke), Macy’s (Joana)
Hair: Barbie at Avant Garde Salon, Destin (Brooke)
Officiant: Ray Ward
Jewelers: Hon Ngai Jewelry, Etsy.com (Brooke’s engagement ring), Worthmore Jewelers (Joana’s band), The Mobley Company, Villa Rica, GA (Brooke’s band)
Flowers: A Perfect Day, Destin, FL

featured, relationships, the vivid life

Maintaining a marriage (a celebration of nine years together)

kirsten-and-maria

Nine years ago today, Maria and I became girlfriend and girlfriend. We’d been dating for about a month before she asked me to be hers. There was a fluttering feeling of little wings going crazy in my tummy as I tucked my chin ever so slightly and replied “yes” with a delighted grin on my face. Since that perfect moment, Maria and I have lived a jam-packed life loaded with all the extra toppings–some we ordered, some were extra, and some we wanted to send back. But we’ve taken it all and enjoyed almost every moment. I definitely haven’t been a perfect partner along the way, sometimes dipping down very low on the contribution ladder when it came to being the most romantic or giving. And I’ve had to learn a lot about compromise, more so in expecting it rather than me just compromising all of my own beliefs because I thought it had to be that way to keep a good relationship going. To be fair, Maria didn’t know when I was doing this. She just thought she had lucked up finding a woman who happened to believe everything she believed. In our nine years, I have come out more strongly in the last few years as more of my own person, owning who I am and what I think.

Along the way, I’ve also had to learn a lot about relationships in general. I didn’t have a fear of commitment, per se. I just took off when the going got rough. What was the point if we couldn’t get along every second? Those were my thoughts in my 20s. I didn’t know how to effectively discuss my feelings of agitation or to let Maria know she’d hurt me without acting out in a passive-aggressive way.

When we got married in 2009, my grandmother, who’d divorced her first husband before marrying my Papa, said with a very loving tone: “Good luck in your marriage, Kirsten. You haven’t had any good examples of a marriage actually working out. Everyone in your family has gotten a divorce, including me.”

And she was mostly right with the exception of my father’s third marriage, which lasted 17 years until his death, to my stepmother, Clare. They loved each other in abundance every day, and hardly ever disagreed. Theirs was a love affair I want to emulate.

But I also married a passionate Italian who possesses the confidence to get her feelings across and yet let me know that she loves me in abundance. Maria has taught me so much about what it is to maintain a relationship, to keep ours going. It’s not just about loving each other. We’ve got that down pat. It’s also about allowing ourselves to take time to fume over something that’s got one of us in a tizzy, to talk it over, and for our hearts to know that we can give it our all at all times because we know that the other one isn’t going anywhere. We must tend to the garden that is our relationship in order to have it continually bloom, and that we mustn’t abandon it or else weeds will grow.

As we’ve grown older and (hopefully) wiser, I feel like we’ve also grown with each other, like roots of two different plants, intertwined deep within the earth, and I love knowing that we’re together through anything life throws our way (and it has thrown some major curve balls).

I love Maria in abundance not just during our happy times, of which there are countless, but during the hard times as well. And you’re not going to be together for nine or more years without a difficult time coming at you hard at some point in your relationship. But I’ve learned that you have to work hard at making it feel easy, that when the going gets rough, you don’t just throw in the cards.

Happiness in a relationship, I’ve come to know, very much depends on what you’re willing to do once the honeymoon period is over. Because I’ve learned how to do the work–and so has Maria–I feel like we’re reaping those benefits tenfold now, and we’re riding high on a fluffy yet sturdy

Photo: Our Labor of Love