Next week, Suzanne King and Tambry Young will celebrate their 30th anniversary, even if they only officially married in November 2009.
They date their union to its true origin, back decades before gay or lesbian couples could have dreamed of having any kind of official status. The closest they could approach it, years later, was under a reciprocal beneficiaries law, which offered only a smattering of legal protections.
But they wanted the vows and the wedding. Massachusetts is one of a few states to recognize legal marriages for same-sex couples, so off they flew for a ceremony and a license, one that’s recognized only there and a handful of other states.
Prospects for even state-sanctioned civil unions in Hawaii at that point seemed pretty bleak. When former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the civil unions bill of 2010, King and Young were among the couples who sued.
Lo and behold, Senate Bill 232 passed and was signed into law last month by now-Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Under the new statute, their marriage will be recognized in Hawaii as the equivalent of a civil union, but fighting for others to have this status became the core project of their family, which includes 11-year-old daughter Shylar Young.
Shylar had sat at the hearings, they said, and was shocked to hear testimony from others saying that same-sex unions harmed children. She still shrugs off such notions.
"I want to tell these people that I’m beautiful the way I am," she said, taking a break from her weekly soccer practice. "If they knew me, they would realize I’m not weird or loony." Then she bounded back to the business of booting the ball around Kamiloiki Field.
Young is Shylar’s biological mother, but through adoption proceedings King won legal status as "co-parent," with equal parental legal rights. Judges now have the discretion to award that status, but King hopes that once the civil unions law takes effect, it will be standard operating procedure.
King and Young are on the board of Citizens for Equal Rights, an organization that is now planning to sponsor informational forums for people interested in civil unions (schedules will be posted on the group’s Web site, www.equality808.com).
But all of this activity, as civil unions become implemented, has to be threaded through the family’s ordinary life (Young owns Tidy Up Gang, a residential and commercial cleaning business and King is director of programs for the Honolulu Board of Realtors). And, they want people to know: They do have an ordinary life.
Children, ultimately, seem clear on that concept, Young said.
"Somebody will ask, ‘Why does Shylar have two moms?’ And I’d answer, ‘Because she’s very, very lucky!" Young said with a laugh.
"And then they’d say, "Oh. OK. Can we have a play date?’ King added.