Nancy Nickelson and Gayle Stringer will cherish Dec. 10, 2012. That’s the day they legally got married.
“Marriage is the socially understood construct that really defines commitment in a marriage,” Stringer said. “To anyone who didn’t know what domestic partnership was wouldn’t know how important Nancy was in my life.”
Voter-approved Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage in Washington state, was enacted Dec. 6. Many couples got a reserve ticket the day before and rushed the next morning to be first in line at the Pierce County Auditor’s Office to receive their marriage license.
Through Jan. 4, 157 same-sex marriage licenses had been filed at the auditor’s office.
Nickelson and Stringer strolled in at 2 p.m. Dec. 6 with nobody in front of them to do what they never thought would be possible.
“We worked in a time where we didn’t talk about our relationship, and so the thought that anyone could be married in this country never came up,” Nickelson said.
At the time Nickelson and Stringer applied for their marriage license, the annual reception for the Seattle-based Pride Foundation was coming up on Dec. 10. Since 1995, Nickelson and Stringer have donated to the nonprofit organization, which distributes scholarships and grants to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender communities across Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Washington.
Stringer and Nickelson wanted to attend the reception, so they asked Jody Waits, the director of community giving, if the Pride Foundation was set up to perform weddings.
“I joked with them, asking if they would be coming as a newly married couple, and they asked me if maybe I could do it,” Waits said.
Waits said she’d be willing to do it at the Pride Foundation office. So, on Dec. 10, Stringer and Nickelson were married. Stringer’s cousin and husband were witnesses. Other Pride Foundation staff members watched.
“They didn’t want it to be religious,” Waits said. “They didn’t want it to be more than 15 minutes. They wanted lots of laughing and no speeches to one another. There were lots of giggles back and forth.”
The journey for Nickelson and Stringer was more than three decades in the making. The couple will celebrate 36 years together this year.
The two met 40 years ago as teachers at Wildwood Elementary School in the Puyallup School District. Nickelson taught sixth grade for 18 years. Stringer taught for 15 years in first, second, third, fifth and sixth grades.
After Stringer retired from teaching, she advocated for sexual assault and domestic violence groups in Washington state.
Nickelson and Stringer both helped in the pro campaign for Referendum 71 in 2009. Its passage helped to expand state benefits for same-sex couples and some senior domestic partners.
Last February, Nickelson and Stringer were present in Olympia to witness Gov. Chris Gregoire sign the marriage equality law that passed in the Legislature.
But the opposition signed enough pledges to take the law to the November ballot. In haste, Nickelson and Stringer became members of the Washington United for Marriage campaign.
“It was quite a coalition of people,” Stringer said.
Nickelson said that, between them and a “spider web of friends and family,” they collected 659 pledges from people who said they would vote yes on Referendum 74.
“In my nonprofit work, I had done community organizing for years,” Stringer said. “Suddenly, that skill became extremely important for my life, and to me personally.”
Nickelson and Stringer said they approached people who had known them for many years but had never known them as a same-sex couple.
“Not all of the conversations I had with people were pleasant,” Stringer said.
For Stringer, the passage of Referendum 74 means she can have peace of mind when any medical emergency comes up.
“When I had my stroke eight years ago, I felt out of control,” she said. “And I had additional concern that no one would pay attention to Nancy. I should not have to worry about that for one minute. Now I can say she is my wife, and people will understand.”
“It’s a different mind set,” Nickelson said.
Nickelson and Stringer are looking forward to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act in March. Its passage would expand all federal benefits to same-sex couples, Nickelson said.
In the meantime, both said it’s business as usual.
“We walk around the house saying, ‘Hi, wife,’ and giggling,” Nickelson said. “It’s fun seeing our friends and family happy for us.”
Both said a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.
“It’s definitely a happy circumstance,” Stringer said.
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.