Jamila and Michelle
They like to say it was love at first strike.
Michelle and Jamila met in a bowling alley in Austin, Texas in 1990. As chance would have it, their lanes were neighboring one another. “We just struck up a conversation,” Michelle says. “I guess we were flirting a little.”
But it was not a smooth journey for Michelle and Jamila. Michelle’s family had difficulty accepting her identity and her relationship with Jamila. They ended up separating and then reuniting seven years later. However, once they were together again, it did not take them long to make that life-long commitment to one another.
It was as the new millennium began that Jamila and Michelle made a personal, life-long commitment to one other. After that, they were married in everything but name.
But the name mattered to them too. They felt the strain—psychologically, emotionally, and practically—of not having their relationship legally recognized and protected. They especially felt this strain when they decided they wanted to have children.
“We wanted to get married for the same reasons as everyone else,” says Jamila. “Because of love, family and making that commitment to one another.”
They wanted to be married, but they were not able to legally marry in their home state of California for years. Each year on Valentine’s Day, Jamila and Michelle, and soon their young daughter Abby, went to their county’s City Clerk’s Office to petition to get married. For years the Clerk’s Office said regretful said, “No.”
However, in 2006, they decided that they could no longer wait for the state to stand on the right side of history. They wanted their 3-year-old daughter to know that they were a family, like everyone else’s. “It was important to show her that there is a happily-ever after,” says Jamila, “That dreams do come true.”
Jamila and Michelle describe their wedding as “just magical”. Both in white dresses, surrounded by both of their families, Jamila and Michelle said their vows as their daughter Abby released a cage full of butterflies. “It really was a storybook wedding.”
But was this enough? Jamila and Michelle have long been involved with the organization Marriage Equality USA, so Abby had long been exposed to the movement to win marriage for same-sex couples in the United States. Abby was very inquisitive for a 3-year-old. As Abby and her newly married moms approached the US-Canadian border, she asked, “Moms, when we cross that line, are we still married?”
Jamila and Michelle told her, “In our hearts, we are always married, and no one can take that away. But while Canada recognizes our marriage, the United States does not.” Abby did not like this answer. So as they crossed the border to return to their home in California, Abby rolled down her window and insisted that her moms join her as she yelled a marriage equality chant. Abby was so passionate to have her family recognized as legal that at the age of four, she led the Marriage Equality USA Coast to Coast Bridgewalk across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But the day of the march was also special to Abby because it was the day Abby met her new younger brother.
In 2008, Jamila and Michelle were the first same-sex couple to be married in their county in California. For Jamila and Michelle, that day was equally special to their first wedding because attending this wedding were all of the people in the City Clerk’s Office who for years were forced to say no when Jamila and Michelle petitioned to be married. At last, and very enthusiastically, the people at the City Clerk’s Office were finally able to say, “Yes!”
Now Jamila and Michelle and their three children live in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jamila is starting her ministerial internship at a Unitarian Universalist congregation and Michelle is working as a CT Technologist at a hospital. They are a very happy family—but also a vulnerable one.
Utah does not recognize their marriage, so Jamila and Michelle worry about how to ensure that they and their children have all the legal protections other families have. They worry what will happen to their children if something happens to one of them.
Both Jamila and Michelle still work for Marriage Equality USA, now working in Utah to win the freedom to marry in that state. They dream of a day when they will no longer feel vulnerable and unprotected. They dream of a world where their family will be recognized and protected in all fifty states. They dream of a world where their family will be recognized and protected across the globe.
In reflecting on that idea of the freedom to marry across the globe, Jamila says, “It would be the way the world really ought to be.”