By Bob Allen
A lesbian couple, members of clergy and other supporters boarded a bus in Louisville, Ky., July 28 for a three-hour ride to Illinois, where the couple was legally wed. The “Journey of Faith for Marriage Equality” was a symbolic effort to draw attention to the current disparity in marriage laws depending on where a U.S. citizen lives.
“We’re just like any other opposite-sex family,” bride Sarah Peacock said after she and spouse Kristy Sturgill obtained a civil marriage license in Metropolis, Ill. “If only Kentucky would see it that way.”
Peacock and Sturgill made the trek after earlier in the day applying for and being denied a marriage license at the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office in Louisville. The couple solemnized their marriage at a park located a couple of blocks away from the Massac County Courthouse, near the Ohio River, which separates the town of 6,500 southern Illinoisans from nearby Paducah, Ky.
A Baptist minister, Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, officiated at the ceremony. Blanchard organized the Journey of Faith with help from The We Do Campaign, The Fairness Campaign, ACLU and Southerners For the Freedom to Marry.
Blanchard, an itinerant minister and volunteer leader of the True Colors Ministry at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., said the journey was symbolic of the struggle for LGBT rights in Kentucky for several reasons.
“The struggle for freedom has often led oppressed people across bodies of water in search of wholeness,” Blanchard said. “We recall the crossing of the Red Sea by the ancient Israelites as they escaped Egyptian bondage. We recall the courageous civil-rights marchers crossing over the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to raise national attention to their continued denial of voting rights.”
“This physical and spiritual ‘crossing over’ still resonates in the LGBT struggle today as same-sex couples in Kentucky are forced to travel hours from their homes to cross the Ohio River into the state of Illinois, where they are legally granted their civil right to be married,” Blanchard said.
Kentucky forbids same-sex marriage with a 1998 statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman and a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004 not recognizing civil unions for gays performed in another state.
Last November Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act providing “same-sex and different-sex couples and their children equal access to the status, benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.”
A federal judge ruled in February that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state, but issued a stay putting the order on hold pending the outcome of gay marriage cases from four states scheduled for argument Aug. 6 at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Monday, the same day Peacock and Sturgill traveled across state lines to wed, the 4th District U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex unions in a jurisdiction also covering North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, which already allows gays to wed.
Peacock said it doesn’t bother her much that for now her marriage isn’t legally recognized in Kentucky.
“What it comes down to is that we are married,” she said. “We are married in the eyes of God. We are married in the eyes of our family and friends. We are married in the eyes of the state of Illinois.”
Peacock said she and Sturgill have been together for three years and engaged for a year. They had talked about various options opening up for them to legally tie the knot, she said, when the Journey of Faith opportunity presented itself rather suddenly. “It was like a miracle,” she said.
Peacock said the couple had wondered together whether it would feel any different for them to be married. With everything legal, she remarked, it seemed surprisingly ordinary.
“We’re going to look back on the day and go, ‘Wow, that was really amazing,’” she said.
Blanchard — who with his partner and several other same-sex couples are litigants in the case challenging Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage headed toward the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals — said for him it was well worth the trip.
“I was overcome with joy for them,” he said. “They have such a special relationship. People seeing that relationship recognized as equal, that just warmed my heart.”
A worker in the Metropolis courthouse said several couples like Peacock and Sturgill have visited from Kentucky to get married since the state’s same-sex marriage law took effect June 1.