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.

“We tell

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

said.

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.

Recently,

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.

Throughout

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.

Bailey and

Majors helped to bring change by sharing their story and coming out very

publicly after living in the closet for most of their relationship.

Among their

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

Parade.

During the

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.

During the

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.

Majors 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.

Although

they have not been as active recently due to Majors’ health problems, they have

continued to support ONE Community efforts. 

Along with

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

Scottsdale.

When they

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.

They met

while attending Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. They

developed a strong friendship before pursuing a relationship.

When they

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.

They

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.

During most

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.

Back then,

relationships between same-sex couples just weren’t discussed.

“I didn’t

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.

While living

in Texas, Bailey once wasn’t allowed to stay in the room with her when Majors

got surgery.

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.

Curtis and

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

court case. 

“Because our

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

said.

Upon coming

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.

Married life

hasn’t changed their relationship but has made it feel more official

legally. 

“I think

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.

Although

they have always been very simpatico, Majors and Bailey have always been very

different.

Majors

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.

Bailey has

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.

As mothers,

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.

Diamond and

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

the reception. 

In 2018,

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.

Raising

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

retired. 

Having a

strong foundation has allowed Bailey and Majors to build a long-lasting

relationship, despite trials and tribulations over the years.

They have

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.”


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