Shara Orcutt and Kathleen Claymore say their marriage vows Sunday at the Pioneer Park Aviary in Walla Walla, where Orcutt first proposed marriage. The couple is the first to wed locally under the new same-sex marriage law state voters approved in November.
WALLA WALLA -- Although the air was chilly at Pioneer Park Sunday, the mood was warm as Kathleen Claymore and Shara Orcutt were allowed, at last, to say "I do."
The women were the first same-sex couple married in Walla Walla County the day it became possible to do so.
Voters approved referendum 74 on Nov. 6, and couples could apply for marriage licences on Thursday, with the standard three-day waiting period in place.
Claymore and Orcutt have been waiting much longer for the things a legal marriage affords them, they said.
The couple dated a few years before registering as domestic partners after Orcutt, 39, proposed to Claymore, 32, at Pioneer Park's aviary more than two years ago.
While having that legal standing was an improvement, it certainly wasn't satisfactory, explained Claymore, a student in the Walla Walla Community College culinary program.
"We have this little card you have to carry around. You don't like to carry it, but you kind of need to."
Claymore landed in the hospital last summer with some health issues and knew that card would be the only way to prove to staff Orcutt had full right to make decisions and be by Claymore's bedside, she said.
"I was worried they wouldn't give my wife updates, so scared they wouldn't believe it."
That doesn't happen when two people can say they are legally married.
"Not a 'separate-but-equal' thing, but it is real," Claymore added.
"People may not understand what a domestic partnership is, but they have no problem knowing what marriage means," Orcutt said. "When I've tried to pay her bills or explain something over the phone, people ask 'Are you married?' We've always been married in our hearts."
Now there is no need to explain the women are a committed family, she added. "We don't have to redefine that."
Being first to take advantage of the new law was "cool," Orcutt said. "But all that was secondary. It was really about our wedding."
Plus she's already been a forerunner for gay rights. "Twenty years ago I took my girlfriend to a high school dance, And that was a big thing for the Tri-Cities."
Yet Sunday's timing mattered.
Not only did Orcutt, a chemical engineer working at Hanford, doubt she would ever see the day she could legally take a bride, but she believes formal opposition to the law will soon come, she said.
"We wanted to do it before someone can come in and challenge it and take it away."
Everett Maroon, head of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart in Walla Walla, officiated the ceremony as a favor to his bowling buddies Claymore and Orcutt. He's not a minister but became ordained online for the special occasion.
"They could have stayed in Tri-Cities and gone to the a justice of the peace, but Walla Walla is special to them sentimentally," he said.
Maroon's words Sunday morning payed homage to everything the women had gone through to reach that moment, Orcutt said. "It was beautiful. He was so eloquent."
The short ceremony included some of Claymore's Native American traditions, including enfolding her spouse with her great grandmother's shawl. The event was attended by a handful of friends and family.
Orcutt's family is Mormon and they are struggling with the marriage part of her relationship to Claymore, the engineer said. "But they love Kathleen."
Claymore and Orcutt have planned a bigger ceremony for October on the Oregon Coast, after which Claymore will take Orcutt's last name. Once Claymore has graduated from Walla Walla Community College in June, it will be time to focus on having a family, Orcutt said.