One of the couples mentioned in this article, Karen Weldin and Susanne Bain, joined us at St. Francis on Jan. 29, 2004 as we blessed the same-sex unions of fifteen couples from across the nation who were married in San Francisco during the city's gay wedding spree.

Tulsa World, 29 February 2004

Same-sex weddings planned

World Staff Writer

Two area couples are going to San Francisco to get married. Two northeast Oklahoma couples have joined the parade of thousands of gay men and lesbians who are getting married in San Francisco, knowing their controversial unions won't be recognized when they come home.

Karen Weldin, 50, and Susanne Bain, 63, of Stigler and Fernando Este, 45, and Don Glass, 39, of Tulsa have appointments to get marriage licenses Monday at San Francisco's City Hall.

The couples plan to go to a park with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge for their ceremonies, which will be conducted by the Rev. Leslie Penrose of Tulsa's Community of Hope.

"I want it to be as perfect as possible," Weldin said, adding that she and her partner wrote their vows and are taking special music to play.

"Susanne and I have been together for 14 years, and we're finally going to be able to experience what should be our right to experience."

Este said the marriage would change little in his five-year relationship but that he and his partner want to confirm their commitment to one another.

"It's a wonderful and historic opportunity that we can't ignore," he said. "Who knows when we'll get another chance?"

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized same-sex marriage licenses Feb. 12, challenging California's state law that bans such unions. Newsom says the law violates the California Constitution's equal protection clause.

So far, conservative groups have failed to get a court to stop the marriages. The California Supreme Court has been asked to rule whether the licenses are legal.

Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune said Saturday at the Tulsa County Republican convention that he will not follow in Newsom's footsteps.

"If you are wanting to be married in a gay relationship, you better get on a plane or in your car and drive hundreds of miles to San Francisco, because it's not going to happen in Tulsa," he said. "Not with this mayor. Not going to happen."

LaFortune further explained his position after reading the definitions of family, marriage, parents, mother and father from the dictionary.

"It's an honor to stand up and say you oppose gay marriage because you believe in family," he said. "It's an attack on family. Faith and family are the core fabrics of our community."

Ever since the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided that it is unconstitutional in that state to deny marriage to gay couples, the issue of same-sex unions has become a polarizing political issue across the country.

Massachusetts is set to begin authorizing the nation's first state-sanctioned gay marriages in May.

President Bush recently endorsed a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Conservative legislators in Oklahoma hope to define marriage in the state constitution, even though gay marriages are already prohibited by state statute.

So far, all proposals except one have been blocked in legislative committees from reaching the floors of the state House and Senate.

The one that has been passed is House Resolution 1028, which calls for Congress to initiate hearings on the proposed federal constitutional amendment.

But state Senate Minority Leader James Williamson, R-Tulsa, said that resolution won't do enough to protect Oklahoma.

"We have a law, but we need to spell it out in the state constitution so there's no question," Williamson said. "Massachusetts had a similar law, and look at what happened there. We don't want this in Oklahoma."

Williamson vowed to keep fighting for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages until the last day of the session. He has asked Gov. Brad Henry for help in getting the necessary Democratic votes to bring his proposal out of committee and to the Senate floor.

Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City, blocked some of the anti-gay marriage bills because he believes that they are inappropriate.

"Our constitution is to protect the rights of the people, even when legislators try to do things for politics," he said. "I don't think it should be touched, especially to add language that blatantly discriminates.

"It's really absurd that we've spent so much time on this when we need to be talking about real issues like education and the economy."

Both Oklahoma couples who are being married in San Francisco this week said they have no immediate plans to wage a legal fight to have their unions recognized here.

"It's significant that we are dissenters of an unjust law," Weldin said. "But this is a personal step for us -- not a political act."

Weldin is the director of operations for Soulforce, a nationwide gay organization that tries to promote understanding in the religious community.

She is working toward her divinity degree from Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa after spending years as a marriage and family counselor.

Weldin met Bain, who is retired from a cable business, through mutual friends in 1989.

On Valentine's Day last year, Bain gave her a red plastic heart with a piece of paper inside that read, "Will you marry me?"

"Of course I said 'Yes' right away, but we both knew that actually accomplishing it would be a task," Weldin said.

The two considered traveling to Canada, where gay marriages are legal, or to Massachusetts once gay marriages begin there.

But then San Francisco began issuing licenses, and the couple bought their plane tickets.

"We just didn't want to wait any longer," Bain said.

Este met his partner in 1999 at Tulsa's first gay pride parade. They focused on being friends for a long time before realizing they had fallen in love.

"We got together for the same reasons as any other couple," he said. "We have the same interests, the same values, and we both know what we want to accomplish with our lives."

Este is a former chemical engineer who is pursuing a degree in library and information studies. Glass is an architect.

Este said he would like for heterosexuals to see the normality of their relationship.

"We go to work, come home, pay bills, go grocery shopping," he said. "It's very boring and very wonderful."

Penrose, the minister who will marry the couples, resigned from the United Methodist denomination in 1999 after she was charged with violating church law for conducting holy unions for gay men and lesbians.

She has continued to perform holy union ceremonies through the United Church of Christ denomination but has refused to officiate at civil ceremonies for heterosexual couples because she couldn't do so for homosexuals.

Monday's marriage ceremonies will be her first since she took that stand a decade ago.

"I'm honored that they want me there," Penrose said. "If two people love each other and want to dedicate their lives to each other through marriage, that should be encouraged."