Karen Bailey and Nelda Majors
Story and photos by Laura Latzko, November 2019 issue.
In Oct. 2014, Karen
Bailey and Nelda Majors made history as the first LGBT couple to get married in
Arizona. They were plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that stuck down the same-sex
marriage ban in Arizona.
The two have
been together for 61 years, but they weren’t able to tie the knot officially in
Arizona until they had been a couple for over 50 years.
everybody that we waited until 2014 because we didn’t want to rush into
anything. We wanted to make sure our relationship was going to last,” Majors
The two held
a public marriage ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre and reception at the Farm at
South Mountain on Nov. 23, 2014. They
decided on a public ceremony to celebrate not just their union, but the work of
others involved with bringing marriage equality to Arizona.
As they are
coming up on their fifth wedding anniversary as a married couple, they are as
strong of a unit as ever.
they have faced a difficult time in their lives as Majors has been battling
cancer. She went through chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed last
August and is now in remission.
it all, Bailey has been by Majors’ side. Their two daughters have also been
sources of strength for them. They adopted their great-great nieces Marissa
Diamond, 21, and Sharla Curtis, 27, when they were small children.
Majors helped to bring change by sharing their story and coming out very
publicly after living in the closet for most of their relationship.
top moments have been speaking in Washington, D.C. during the Defense of
Marriage Act hearings and serving as grand marshals in the Phoenix Pride
trip to Washington DC, Bailey had a chance to see the impact their story had on
others’ lives. “The young people were the ones that would come up to us crying
and say thank you. That was so meaningful to me,” Bailey said.
federal court case, they became the faces of marriage equality in Arizona,
making the issue more relatable as two women who had owned their own business,
raised children and built a long-lasting relationship.
“It made an
impression with a lot of people when we told our story, and they realized that
we’re just like you. We just want our rights too,” Bailey said.
that being so public was a different experience after having to stay hidden for
most of their lives.
“We had been
in the closet for so many years, and then all of a sudden, when we got out of
the closet, we really got out of the closet,” Majors said.
they have not been as active recently due to Majors’ health problems, they have
continued to support ONE Community efforts.
their work with the LGBTQ community, the two have given back over the years in
different ways, including teaching Sunday school at a church and volunteering
for an AIDS organization in Texas and helping to feed the homeless in
first moved to Arizona, Majors volunteered with Equality Arizona. For most of
their time together, they lived in Texas. They moved to Arizona in 2005 to give
their daughters a fresh start.
while attending Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. They
developed a strong friendship before pursuing a relationship.
first met, Bailey was engaged and knew very little about LGBT people. It was during a spring break trip, when they
were apart, that they realized their feelings for each other.
consider March 2 their anniversary, as it was the day that they first got
together as a couple.
They grew up
in different times, when LGBT people had to live double lives and keep their
relationships a secret. If they didn’t, they could lose their jobs and
families, get arrested and face other consequences.
of their relationship, their families didn’t know they were together. They were
close to each other’s parents, but they never came out to them.
relationships between same-sex couples just weren’t discussed.
think about living in the closet. That was just a way of life,” Bailey said.
As they got
older, they had concerns over legal rights, including custody over their
youngest daughter and the ability to make medical decisions for each other.
in Texas, Bailey once wasn’t allowed to stay in the room with her when Majors
The two were
only willing to come out publicly because they had already told their daughters
about their relationship. They had always kept it a secret because they didn’t
want the two girls’ to be judged by other parents or children.
Diamond were supportive from the start when they found out in 2008. This show
of support allowed Bailey and Majors to go public and become plaintiffs in the
girls had accepted us so well, we were able to come out. It was enlightening
for us. It was a good feeling, finding out how much people did care,” Bailey
out publicly, the two found support from different people in their lives,
including their neighbors in their Scottsdale community.
“This is a
very conservative neighborhood, and all of our neighbors have been really nice.
That meant a lot to us,” Majors said.
hasn’t changed their relationship but has made it feel more official
that having the legal rights made it feel different. The next day after our
wedding, I thought, ‘My gosh, we really are married.’ If you would have said
that to me back in Texas, I would have said you were crazy. So, it was an
eye-opening feeling the next day. Sometimes, I get it when we’re filing income
taxes,” Bailey said.
they have always been very simpatico, Majors and Bailey have always been very
played softball from age 12 to her 30s and was an All-American pitcher. In
2002, she became a member of the Softball Legends Hall of Fame.
Both she and
Bailey received a 2014 Compete Lifetime Spirit Award.
always been the artistic one, doing watercolor painting and ballroom dancing.
She danced with Fred Astaire Dance Studios for five years, traveling to cities
around the country and to Europe.
The two ran
a physical therapy business together up until they retired. Before that, Bailey
worked at an oil company.
they have tried to raise their daughters to be accepting and stand up for
others who are getting bullied. They have also been role models on how to build
a strong, long-lasting relationship.
Curtis wrote letters in support of them during the court case, which detailed
why they thought their mothers should be married. Diamond read her letter
during the 2014 marriage ceremony, and Curtis sang Vince Gill’s “Look at Us” at
Majors and Bailey were honored for their roles as activists and mothers with a
Valle del Sol Mom of the Year Award. The award is given to women who along with
raising families also make contributions to their communities.
their daughters has been one of their biggest accomplishments, one that they
never expected. The two girls came to live with them after they had already
strong foundation has allowed Bailey and Majors to build a long-lasting
relationship, despite trials and tribulations over the years.
been each other’s greatest sources of support during hard times. They have both
lost family members, including their siblings. Bailey said starting off as
friends and really getting to know each other allowed them to build a deeper
bond from the start.
“It’s so natural for Nelda and me. We started out being best friends. I think that that helped because we got to know each other. We got to know what we believed in. Truly she is not only my partner, but she’s my best friend,” Bailey said. “I think it’s just really caring for the person, really caring enough to go through the hard times and the good times and still know that you have each other.”