WEDDING- Pre-Prop 8 proposals: Couples wed to beat California election

Virginia Evans and Natalie Easterly

For most couples, choosing the date for their wedding is a matter of convenience and preference. But for these two local couples, the timing of their weddings was a necessity. With Proposition 8 on the California ballot– stripping same-sex couples of the right to legally wed– and with pre-election polling pointing to the possibility that it would pass, there was no time to lose. 

Virginia Evans and Natalie Easterly

When Virginia Evans and Natalie Easterly were introduced by mutual friends a year and a half ago, each woman says she quickly knew she'd found a life partner.

"She's my cup of tea," says Easterly, who describes Evans as a "quiet, level-headed person," while she considers herself "more of an artist, a little ADD, always shaking something around."

"We don't argue, we don't fight," she adds. "It's just a supportive, loving relationship."

As the election loomed, "We decided to go ahead and do the civil ceremony, just to make sure we could get the license in California," says 46-year-old Evans. In September, the pair flew to San Francisco to wed in front of a justice of the peace, and in November, their speed proved prescient, as California voters narrowly approved the measure. 

Now, says Evans, with California courts considering the legality of the law banning gay marriage, "the jury's still out on the 18,000 people who'd already gotten married" in that state.

To Evans and Easterly– and the thousands, if not millions, of Americans fighting for marriage equality for gays– the ban is a violation of basic civil rights. Civil unions– which typically offer fewer legal rights than marriage– is no substitute, says Evans. Virginia doesn't offer even that option, and Evans notes the uncertainty many same-sex couples face when it comes to estate planning, healthcare, even joint home ownership.

"If a gay couple owns a house together and one dies, the surviving spouse only owns half of the house, and the other half goes to their partner's family who may or may not be supportive," says Evans, who notes that Virginia– which only officially did away with laws banning interracial marriage in the 1980s– is among the worst in the nation for gay rights.

Easterly says she and Evans wish they could have tied the knot closer to home, but she's grateful to have had the chance in California– and they'll return there at the end of January for a formal Episcopal Church wedding surrounded by their family and friends.

"All we're looking for is somewhere, someplace, someone recognizes that we're married," says Easterly, who hopes one day their marriage will be recognized in all 50 states just as heterosexual marriages are.

In fact, this is not the first marriage for either woman; both were married to men at earlier points in their lives.

"It didn't work out cause it wasn't the right thing for me," says Easterly, now 55, who came out to friends and family at age 29. "I about killed myself trying to be what I was supposed to be," she says. 

Evans, who works in IT at UVA and has two teenage children from her first marriage, says both families have been supportive. Her own 85-year-old mother is flying to California for the church ceremony, and Easterly's sister threw them an engagement party.

"It's been lovely, having dreams come true about how you want your life to be," says Easterly, "and not feeling like you're hiding."

Still, both women say that even close friends can have a hard time understanding their plight.

"People are surprised" says Easterly. "They ask, 'Why do you want to get married?' Why wouldn't I? I've always wanted to get married."

Chris Gilman and Chad Thorne

For Chris Gilman and Chad Thorne, getting married meant more than just becoming a legally recognized couple; it meant becoming a family. The pair, who met in August 2006 through a summer volleyball group called "Come Out and Play Volleyball" at Washington Park, flew to California this past June to be legally wed in the San Francisco courthouse– and a big reason for the wedding, says Gilman, was to provide a stable home life to  Thorne's niece and nephew, who Thorne had been fostering.

"We wanted to get married," says Gilman, "so we could offer what every child should have: two loving parents."

In fact, once the couple had moved in together, they were a step closer to making that dream a reality.

"There wasn't anything holding us back anymore," says Thorne, citing the double income and the support that comes with having a life partner and co-parent. 

"The most important part was I was their legal and physical guardian," says Thorne, but without official adoption papers, "there was nothing that protected them from anyone coming in to muck with that." 

With Gilman in his life, "the timing was right, the family situation was right. That was a huge relief, to know that we were 'officially a family,'" explains Thorne, who finalized the adoption process in August 2007. 

Gilman and Thorne agree that Kaleb and Emily– in third and fourth grade at Johnson Elementary School– were a major impetus for tying the knot.

"The kids started pressuring me about when we were going to get married," laughs Gilman, who says when the topic first came up, there wasn't much he and Chad could do about it.

 "We bandied it about, but because marriage wasn't legal, it was more conceptual," he explains. But in May, when California legalized gay marriage, says Gilman, a California native, he and Thorne leapt at the opportunity– while fearing Proposition 8. 

"We were pragmatic enough to know if it did pass," says Gilman, "we would have missed an opportunity."

In June, they jetted to San Francisco where they wed in the courthouse surrounded by friends and family. And in August, the newlyweds hosted a cocktail reception at Charlottesville LiveArts theatrical complex for about 75 local friends and family.

Both Gilman and Thorne, a Waynesboro native, say not much has changed since they made the ultimate relationship commitment.

"One of the things that's struck me is how normal it all is," says Gilman, describing "making dinners, doing chores, going on family vacations, visiting the in-laws."

Thorne serves as president of the PTO at Johnson Elementary, where the kids– and their two dads– have been "embraced," says Thorne, expressing gratitude for the acceptance the family has received from the community. 

"We're just like any couple with kids trying to make it through," says Thorne.

But even though much of any married life is focused on mundane tasks, the impact of getting married, Gilman and Thorne agree, has been deeper.

"There's something exciting about being able to wear a ring," says Gilman. "The lasting commitment piece has been powerful to me."



I think the information about home ownership is incorrect. My partner of 24+ years (We also married in California in October) and I own our home with rights of survivorship, which means if one of us dies, the other owns the home. HOWEVER, because of Virginia's HB751, this contract is challengeable because it "purports to confer a benefit of marriage", and therefore could be interpreted to be null and void, along with our wills and power of attorney documents.

I believe HB751 was overridden by the state constitutional amendment, which I think has slightly different language re: contractual agreements, due to proponents realizing that the 751 wording could put a pinch on unmarried het contracts as well. Best we all check the VA Bill of Rights (or to be certain.