“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Paul Gonzenbach and Neal Yakelis weren’t expecting a life together when they first began chatting online in 2003. Nor did they expect to buy a house together after only a year of dating. They did, however, continue to expect for the relationship to fail. It didn’t.
“I think we both kept waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Yakelis said. “It seemed too easy, and just too perfect.”
Despite living in two different states, Yakelis and Gonzenbach still managed to see each other every weekend. Then, when Yakelis got a job teaching at Pacific Lutheran University, the two bought a house and settled in Seattle. After six years together, they had a wedding in 2009.
“It’s a public pronouncement of something beautiful,” Gozenbach said. “The experience of celebrating my relationship with Neal with everyone there was amazing. To have everyone you love under the same roof to witness it is something that only happens once in your life.”
For two people who were never expecting to fall in love so fully, it would’ve been the perfect bookend to any courtship. Had they been straight, it likely would’ve been; but as a gay couple, it would be another three years before the legal backing inherent in marriage would finally catch up to them.
“I find it very comforting that most people in King County support us being married,” Yakelis said. “Since we’re both from out of state, and from states that didn’t have marriage equality at the time, I felt especially welcomed here. I’m proud to call it my state and my home.”
The passage of Prop 74 allowed them to commit themselves to one another once more, but this time, with the knowledge that they were both doing so with full legal protections. So, on the day gay marriages were first performed in King County, the couple decided to celebrate the landmark moment when gay marriage was approved by a popular vote for the first time.
“We wanted to be a part of history,” Gonzenbach said. “And there was something very emotional about that ceremony; I held myself together pretty well the first time, but just knowing that this was going to be official and legal. It was more than just a renewal of our vows, and it was powerful in that way.”
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that struck down a key provision of DOMA, their rights became further cemented as something truly absolute.
“I felt more secure in our relationship just because of the safeguards now in place in case something catastrophic happens,” Gonzenbach said. “Just knowing that if I were to die, Neal wouldn’t be left destitute or get kicked out of the house is a big assurance. Being able to file jointly is really the only concrete way we’ll feel it right now, but the security added is a big deal.”
Despite these victories, the remaining 37 states that have not approved marriage equality show that the fight for gay rights is far from over. But, according to Yakelis and Gonzenbach, the importance of DOMA’s end is as much of a symbol for the changing tides as it is a legal victory.
“I think it continues the momentum that’s been going on for the last few years,” Yakelis said. “There have been setbacks and downturns, but with Washington, Maine and the other states that are finally approving gay marriage, the momentum has finally been brought back up. And with the number of court cases being brought up for gay rights in states you wouldn’t expect, the precedent that has been set with the Supreme Court and the legal system is going to be very important in the coming months and years.”
While the two stress the importance of keeping that momentum going in order to bring equality to the rest of the nation, Yakelis and Gonzenbach also take comfort in the fact that their adoptive city is so invested in making equality a reality for them, and believe that Capitol Hill is what the rest of America may someday become.
“Seattle, and Capitol Hill in particular, is what the future will eventually look like,” Yakelis said. “The gay community on the Hill used to be a lone bastion in the region where people would flock, but it seems very integrated with everyone else. I think that it’s essentially a model that shows that people of different orientations and identities can come together and be proud of one another.”