Before the sun could be bothered, a few dozen Alaskans gathered at the Frontier building in midtown Anchorage. The streets were still adjusting to the largest city in Alaska’s first snowfall; the drivers that occupied it were faring worse.
With scarves and gloves freshly plucked from closets, firmly fixed to warm mugs of coffee, gatherers huddled inside the lobby of the Bureau of Vital Statistics. A week and a day ago, district court judge Timothy Burgess struck down the ban on same-sex marriages enacted by voters in 1998. The next day, couples flocked to the same building to apply for marriage licenses. In Alaska, there is a three-day waiting period between application and vows.
Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit, which holds jurisdiction over Alaska, denied the state’s appeal to the district court’s ruling, but granted a temporary stay set to dissolve Friday at noon. Governor Parnell filed for an emergency stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. Shortly before that deadline, the high court released a one sentence memo: “The application for stay presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court is denied.”
The courts were closed to observe Alaska Day, but the message was clear: marriage equality had finally reached the 49th state.
Stephanie Pearson and Courtney Lamb were part of the lawsuit that challenged and defeated Alaska’s ban on marriage equality. Of the five plaintiff families, they were the sole couple that had not been married in another state. Over the summer, I asked them why they had waited. “We don’t live in those other states,” Courtney told me. “We live in this one.”
“The fact that the state isn’t letting gay couples enter into that contract, there’s something wrong with that,” Stephanie told me back in July — what seems like a world away now. “And it needs to be changed. It’s going to happen here.”
Monday morning, for Stephanie and Courtney (and more couples, some of whom were present at the Frontier building), it happened. It was a day that meant so much to so many people, and everything to them.
To Parnell and the trickle of other opponents that have fought marriage equality every step of the way, they deserve credit for at least one thing: As predicted, the sky was actually falling. But it was just snow, and it was rather pleasant.
Some believe snow on a wedding day represents “a prophecy of great happiness.” I’ve read it foreshadows great wealth. A young woman talking to friends next to me said that tying the knot on the same day as the first snow represents prosperity. I don’t give much to superstition (well, outside of baseball), but I’ll concede that, if nothing else, it sure looks nice. As to the rest of it, I’m not too concerned. To meet Stephanie and Courtney is to witness two people very much in love; very much ready to take vows committing themselves to one another. And holding (okay, failing to hold) back tears as I held the camera, I watched them join together in marriage.
Years ago, my wife stumbled upon a quote. We liked it so much that we printed it on t-shirts. It was from William Faulkner, and it rang especially — and quite poetically — true today: “To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality… is like living in Alaska and being against snow.”