For same-sex spouses like Edna Fonseca and Betty Lord, getting married has been the icing on the wedding cake, not necessarily the cake itself.
After New Mexico legalized same-sex marriages last year, life has changed for them in subtle ways – now they can consider hyphenating – and bigger ways – such as receiving the same benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy when they wed.
“Now that we’re wives to each other, what’s mine is hers,” said Lord, a retired janitor, who married Fonseca last August in a no-frills courthouse ceremony.
Before that, Fonseca said, “If one of us passed, one of our relatives could come and take everything.”
The couple began dating 34 years ago, purchased a house in the International District 12 years ago, and raised two children, now in their twenties.
For the 25th anniversary of their relationship, almost 10 years ago, they had a 200-person commitment ceremony at Metropolitan Community Church of Albuquerque. The congregation stood up for them and cheered.
Fonseca and Lord are among at least 1,067 New Mexico same-sex couples who have gotten married in Bernalillo County since the county began issuing same-sex marriage licenses Aug. 27, pursuant to a lower court ruling. At least 492 same-sex couples have come from other states to get married in Bernalillo County, according to County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
Last December, New Mexico’s Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling allowing marriage for same-sex couples, stating: “We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”
As a practicality, the right to marry legitimizes same-sex couples’ unions in the eyes of friends and family; it allows one spouse to financially protect the other, and it obligates employers to provide benefits that opposite-sex married couples receive, according to both local and out-of-state same-sex couples married recently in New Mexico.
For Fonseca and Lord, their legal marriage changed not only their status, but the status of their kids as well. Years ago, Lord became the adopted mother of her biological grand-niece and grand-nephew, and the couple raised them as their own. Now that they’re married, their son, 21, and daughter, 28, are legally recognized as Fonseca’s stepchildren as well.
Fonseca, who is considering hyphenating her last name, can’t understand how two men or two women getting married poses a problem for governments or people. Their kids wonder the same thing. Their daughter has been engaged for 10 years, but hasn’t gotten married because she didn’t think it was fair that their two moms could not.
“We’re not taking anything from anyone,” Fonseca said during an interview in their home. “We just want to protect ourselves, just like a man and a woman when they marry.”
“We’ve been together so long, our marriage license is to benefit us, not to throw it in anybody’s face,” Lord agreed.
“I’m a good person!” she added. “I hurt absolutely no one by being gay … and Edna and I have been together a hell of lot longer than most married people!”
She recalled Fonseca needing an emergency appendectomy a year or two into their relationship. Lord sat at the hospital from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m., trying to see her, but no one would let her. “That really irritated me!” Lord said.
Now, things would be different. “If she gets sick, I can say, ‘I am Betty Lord; I am her spouse. I want to know what’s going on.’”
A special moment
Jeremiah Kelly, 63, and Paul Oostenbrug, 64, began dating in 1987 when they met in Boston at a Thanksgiving dinner given by a mutual friend. “We had lots in common,” recalls Kelly, an academic geriatrician who was then on the faculty of Boston University. They moved together from Boston to Chicago, and later, to Albuquerque, where they live in Nob Hill.
They got married Nov. 29 at a friend’s house in front of about 20 close family members and friends. Oostenbrug’s parents, both in their 90s, came to cheer them on, as did two of Kelly’s brothers, traveling from Milwaukee.
The couple talked during an interview in their home about the special moment saying their vows created. “The observers and family members disappeared, and it was just us, looking into each others’ eyes,” Oostenbrug said. “It was very profound.”
They’d considered getting married in a state where same-sex marriage was already legal, but then they decided against it. “I really saw it as important if we could get married in the state we lived in,” Oostenbrug said. “Whether we got married or not had nothing to do with my commitment – it had to do with practicality.”
Oostenbrug, who sells long-term care insurance, said he’s noticed that the way he treats his husband has changed slightly since they married. “It’s made me more considerate of Jere,” he observed. “I find that I think, ‘Maybe I could do something,’ rather than complaining about it, to solve a problem.” For example, instead of telling Kelly that he’d left a bunch of newspapers around, Oostenbrug bundles them himself.
Kelly considers their marriage a political statement. “To me it was the public legitimization of our relationship that was important. It was a victory of many years worth of work, to be part of that process,” he said. “It was really a matter of history.”
And: “This is the first time we’re doing our taxes together. That’s a big deal.”
When Oostenbrug filled out his registration form for the Senior Olympics, he put HUSBAND in the box marked Emergency Contact and wrote in Kelly’s contact information. “I feel like it’s a wonderful thing to say,” he said.
Kelly, however, is still adjusting to using the H word. “‘Husband’ is more in-your-face,” he said. “It’s more challenging. When you say ‘partner’ it’s not really clear.” When he told someone about his marriage, he says he put it this way: “‘I got married to my same-sex partner,’ rather than saying, ‘I have a husband.’ ”
Worth the drive
Timothy Wayne Chambers and William Bartos Jr. drove through the night from Point Blank, Texas, about a hour from Houston, to get married March 17 at Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque.
They were married by the Rev. Judith Maynard of Metropolitan Community Church of Albuquerque in a 10-minute ceremony filled with emotional vows. Each promised to “continue to live in the warmth of your heart and always call it home.”
In turn, each told the other: “I promise always to be your biggest fan, and your partner in crime.”
They’d met each other on St. Patrick’s Day in 1997 and moved in together right away. Dressed in denim overalls and green print button-down shirts, the two men, both truck drivers, got married before Bartos’ elderly parents and a few onlookers.
“We came because the state of Texas doesn’t recognize our relationship,” said Bartos.
His mother, Barbara Bartos, was exuberant about her new son-in-law.
“Timmy’s just one of the kids, that’s all. I’m just glad they’re finally happy. They have waited a long time for this day. If they’re happy, we’re happy,” she said, speaking for herself and her husband.
They’d already had a commitment ceremony 10 years ago, so there was no need for hoopla, the husbands agreed.
“Every day is a honeymoon,” Chambers said. “It was the same as it was 10 years ago.”
But there was a palpable difference once the ceremony was complete. “It feels like a large weight has been lifted,” Chambers said. “Now, suddenly, our time has come.”
Added Bartos: “We’re so proud to have this opportunity.”
Tying the knot
About 15 minutes later, Maynard performed the wedding ceremony of two women who had traveled from Houston to get married.
Staci and Sabrina Bull, who’d also already had a commitment ceremony, hence the shared last name, stood facing each other as Maynard asked them to repeat to each other: “As a ring has no end, neither does my love for you.”
They laughed and cried while they exchanged rings, then kissed and hugged each other close, while their children watched. Staci had given birth to a son during a previous relationship, and the Bulls’ daughter was conceived with a surrogate. Both are 34-year-old claims adjusters from Houston, and they met at a lesbian bar. They said they came to New Mexico because it’s the closest state to Texas where same-sex marriage is legal.
“Now I feel I can say ‘my wife’ and mean it,” said Sabrina Bull after the brief ceremony, which new friends Chambers and Bartos stuck around to watch. “Just to be able to legally say it is empowering.”
“It really means that no one else can tell me that my relationship isn’t real anymore,” Staci Bull said. “They can’t ignore the relationship any longer, and I feel a confidence boost. I feel I was thrown into the closet. Now, I feel like I am completely out and free.”