Plaintiff couples celebrate marriage equality following historic ruling

By Laura Latzko - Nov. 6, 2014

Since U.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick struck down Arizona’s same-sex marriage ban, countless couples — young and old — have had the opportunity to obtain marriage licenses, have their legal out-of-state marriages respected and, in some cases, exchange vows for the first time.

Their beaming faces and tears of joy have been captured, posted, tweeted, printed, broadcasted and shared for the world to see.

However, there is a collection of names — and faces — that took a stand for marriage equality long before Oct. 17, 2014. And those are the individuals who served as plaintiffs in the two lawsuits that worked to overturn the discriminatory ban.

David Chaney and Clark Rowley

On Oct. 9, 2010, David Chaney and Clark Rowley exchanged vows in front of friends and family during a commitment ceremony at the Scottsdale Civic Center.

Rowley, who admitted he’s a hopeless romantic and always wanted to have a wedding, said he thought that ceremony four years ago was as close as he and Chaney would ever come to being married.

“In my heart, I was married, but it was still, ‘this is the closest we are going to come to being a married couple,’” Rowley said.

So when the opportunity to become involved in the Connolly vs. Jeanes case, Chaney and Rowley didn’t let it pass them by.

“We realized we had a chance to make a change,” Chaney said, “We were both tired of the way things were.”

Rowley said working toward marriage equality in Arizona was not just for their marriage, but for all couples experiencing inequality across the state.

“If we could make a difference,” Rowley said, “I felt honored to carry that privilege.”

Their involvement in the case was important to them for many of the same reasons cited by other couples, specifically the legal and medical protections afforded to married couples.

Because Chaney suffers from type 1 diabetes, both men agreed that finding a way to ensure they’re legally able to medical decisions for each other, and be together if a medical emergency occurred, was a must.

While the couple has only had one medical scare with Chaney’s health, they both feared future medical-related decisions could not be left up to the discretion of medical staff.

Chaney used this example to emphasize that a marriage certificate is much more than just a piece of paper to so many Arizonans. And, on the morning of Oct. 17, 2014, Chaney and Rowley got their “piece of paper” and all the peace of mind that comes with it.

“When we found out we were able to now legally get married, we were both in tears,” Chaney said. “We didn’t think it was all going to fall into place so fast.”

After getting their marriage license, Chaney and Rowley held an impromptu ceremony, once again, at the Scottsdale Civic Center later that day.

“We thought we would get married in a place that means something to us,” Chaney said. “We’d gotten married there before, and we thought, ‘we might as well bring it full circle.’ The one four years ago was amazing, and the one on Friday was amazing too.”

Although they consider their anniversary to be Oct. 9, they said Oct. 17 will also hold significance for them because of its place in Arizona’s history.

“We didn’t mean to make history, but when everyone keeps coming up to us and telling us we are pioneers, and it’s hard to comprehend all of that,” Chaney said.

The couple agreed that they’ve become “like a family” with others plaintiffs in their case and said they’ve enjoyed sharing the celebration with them.

“It is just amazing how positive this whole thing has been and how it has impacted our lives. Now knowing we live in a different Arizona than we did [before] Friday morning is amazing,” Chaney said. “The proudest thing is now when I introduce Clark, I can introduce him as my husband. I don’t have to say my partner, my significant other, I am proud to say, ‘my husband.’”

CJ and Jesús Castro-Byrd

For CJ and Jesús Castro-Byrd, the celebration that followed U.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick’s decision to overturn Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriages was a bit different than any they’d experienced in the past.

The couple, which officially wed in Seattle on Dec. 14, 2012, after same-sex marriage became legal in Washington State, said they never really announced their wedding plans after becoming engaged.

“We knew what it meant to our families [and] we knew what it meant to us, but we didn’t know how to describe it to people because, even though it was only two years ago, there weren’t a lot of states recognizing same-sex marriage,” CJ said.

The couple knew their marriage wasn’t legal in Arizona and they also knew they needed to raise awareness around the topic. And by becoming involved as plaintiffs in the Majors vs. Jeanes (formerly Majors vs. Horne) case, they hoped to accomplish both.

“The feeling that you get when someone tells you, ‘Yeah, you are married, but the state doesn’t recognize it,’ is an awful feeling,” CJ said.

Although it did not make a difference in the way the men viewed their marriage, CJ said the mere fact that someone could technically say, “your marriage doesn’t matter,” was reason enough to stand up and fight for what they knew was right.

“We wanted to our marriage to be recognized. We didn’t want to be labeled as single because we are not single,” Jesús said. “We’re married.”

In getting involved in the lawsuit, the couple also wanted to ensure their legal status as husbands in Arizona because they plan to adopt children together in the future.

“[We’re] taking those steps now, before we get to the point where we have the kids,” CJ said. “We wanted to have that protection beforehand.”

After the federal ruling struck down the same-sex marriage ban in Arizona, the marriage CJ and Jesús knew they had all along became validated.

“Having equality of marriage in Arizona was liberating for us,” Jesús said. “It was like a weight off our shoulders because we don’t have to worry about not being recognized anymore.”

Now that their marriage — as well as those of all of the other plaintiffs is legally recognized — CJ described his overwhelming joy in three words: “I feel free.”

Congratulations To The Plaintiffs

Majors vs. Jeanes (formerly Majors vs. Horne)

This federal court challenge to Arizona’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage — was filed Jan. 6, 2014, in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, by Lambda Legal on behalf of Nelda Majors and Karen Bailey, together 57 years; David Larance and Kevin Patterson, together seven years; Michelle Teichner and Barbara Morrissey, together 10 years and married in New York; Kathy and Jessica Young, together nearly 10 years, married in New York; Patrick Ralph, whose husband, Gary Hurst, died in August, 2013; Kelli and Jennifer Hoelfe Olson, together 10 years, married in Minnesota; Kent Burbank and Vicente Talanquer, together 20 years and married in Iowa; Josefina Ahumada whose wife, Helen Battiste, died in January; and CJ and Jesús Castro-Byrd, together two years and married in Seattle.

Connolly vs. Jeanes

A federal class-action lawsuit filed March 13, 2014, on behalf of Terry Pochert and Joe Connolly, together 19 years and legally married in California in 2008; Mason Hite and Christopher Devine, married in California; Suzanne Cummins and Holly Mitchell, together seven years; and Clark Rowley and David Chaney, together 5 years. e

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