There’s an interesting thing that happens to couples when they fall in love. Maybe you’ve noticed it in yourself, or seen it in a friend when they commit to someone and begin a relationship. We pick up our lover’s mannerisms. Maybe our laugh starts to sound like theirs. Or we start adopting phrases. It’s all completely unconscious and inherently natural. We care about the person we love; start thinking in tandem with them. Inevitably, it influences how we behave.
We call it a union for a reason. We entwine. When it happens to you, or when you see it happen to someone you care about, it’s a heartwarming sight. The happiness and completeness that comes with letting someone in; allowing someone to truly become a part of you, and you them.
But that’s the easy part. The trick is finding that person.
“We met online,” Stephanie Pearson told me.
“We’re the American Dream,” Stephanie’s partner, Courtney Lamb, quickly added on with a wide smile and infectious laugh — the kind of laugh one can’t help but reciprocate.
Stephanie and Courtney are the third and final plaintiff family represented in the Hamby case that agreed to sit down and talk with me. We did so over a drink at Crush Wine and Bistro in downtown Anchorage.
Stephanie moved to Alaska seven years ago from San Diego. The classic “I came up for a summer and never left” story. Courtney was born in Oklahoma City, and came to Anchorage when she was five. Her family was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Since then, she’s ping-ponged here and there, but says she’s back in Alaska to stay. “It’s home. There’s nowhere like Alaska. There’s no other place that has the majesty that this state has. And it’s just a short drive away.”
After meeting online, the two traded emails for a couple weeks before finally meeting at Club 210 East in Muldoon. “We played darts. We really haven’t spent a day apart since. We had so much fun together. We hung out every day; we went somewhere different every single day. And it was always new.”
Plus, Stephanie added, her parents fell in love with Courtney.
“I’m the other daughter,” Courtney replied.
“They don’t even text me anymore.”
“They don’t,” Courtney chuckled. “They text me.”
During a weekend trip to Homer in February of last year, Stephanie proposed. And when she saw a Facebook post several months later, seeking same-sex couples willing to file suit against Alaska’s prohibition on marriage equality, she brought it to Courtney’s attention. “Awesome, let’s do it,” was the response she got back.
I asked why they were determined to marry in Alaska, when there are so many states that already recognize same-sex marriages. Courtney quickly shook her head fired back: “But we don’t live in those other states. We live in this one.”
She said they’ve built that life here. They camp, hike, go on road trips, watch television at home with their “spoiled rotten” cat. And the bonfires, they love those. In the summer months, they gather with friends almost nightly over a fire. “We should have just invited you to a bonfire,” Courtney said, grinning. “That’s where we’re going after this.”
The pair enjoys the support of family and friends, saying they have experienced zero negativity since signing on to the lawsuit. If anything, it’s been the opposite. “We’ve had people cross bars to tell us ‘you guys are adorable,'” Courtney said. “I guess we’ve been really lucky.”
“Our friends are very supportive,” Stephanie chimed in. “If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be our friends.”
Should the court invalidate Alaska’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, allowing same-sex couples to wed, Courtney says that’s the first thing they plan to do. She dreams of a “shabby chic” wedding. “Modern rustic,” she said, painting a picture. “That’s the best way that I can describe it. Do some Googling, it’s pretty amazing.”
Last summer, Courtney’s younger brother got married.
“And it was lovely,” she said. “But there’s that little part of me that was like, ‘I can’t do that.’ And I was talking to my mom on the phone, and she said, ‘Well, you can just go down to the court house.’ No, mom. I can’t.”
Together, they’re standing up to the state to change that.
Earlier the same day I spoke with Courtney and Stephanie, Governor Sean Parnell announced that his administration would defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. “Alaska has the right to define and regulate marriage,” the statement read in part.
The words weighed heavily on my mind as I sat, sipping a stout, listening to two people describe how much they love each other, want to commit their lives to one another, and have the state they call home recognize it.
It all seemed a bit absurd.
Throughout the half hour I spoke with the pair, I was filled with joy. There’s nothing quite like seeing two people so in love that it radiates warmth. Stephanie looked into Courtney’s eyes as she recalled how she knew she was the one (“She’s beautiful! Look at her face!”). Courtney glowed with pride when Stephanie addressed Alaska’s constitutional ban preventing their union: “The fact that the state isn’t letting gay couples enter into that contract, there’s something wrong with that. And it needs to be changed. It’s going to happen here.”
They’re the kind of couple that wouldn’t look right if seen apart. They have created an identity together. And the state’s recalcitrance comes across like an elementary school dance chaperone, plucked from a bad 80’s movie, making sure students dance with one foot in between them at all times. The natural magnetism that has drawn these two women together unnaturally forced apart because — why? — the government can better regulate, determine, and judge love?
Throughout the past months — getting the chance to meet Chris Shelden and Matt Hamby, Susan Tow and Chris Laborde, Courtney Lamb and Stephanie Pearson — I’ve been left in absolute awe. These are all truly amazing and courageous people that should be celebrated as examples of who we should all aspire to be. And yet, they’re just fighting to be seen as no different than anybody else. To enjoy the basic human right of marriage. To love and live with the person each wants to spend the rest of their life with, and go to bed knowing that no one can say otherwise.
“I can’t wait until we get there,” I told Courtney and Stephanie as I thanked them for sharing their story with me.
“It won’t be long,” Courtney replied, smiling wide and offering one more contagious laugh that had me grinning all the way home.