Madison Maddux and Ronald Granger had each “given up” a little over three years ago, disappointed by the string of bad relationships that seemed to come standard issue with dating.
So after they met in a bar in Memphis, Tennessee, Granger was surprised to feel “like, ‘that’s it; this is what I’ve been waiting for.’ ” But though the two moved in together within days and decided quickly they wanted to marry, it would be another 31/2 years until they would be able to exchange vows.
The place where they ended up is one they probably wouldn’t have imagined at the beginning of their relationship: a small makeshift chapel in the back of a north Baton Rouge house with two witnesses they’d just met.
On a day when, parish by parish, Louisiana slowly embraced Friday’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, Maddux, 34, and Granger, 57, became what’s believed to be the first same-sex couple to marry in East Baton Rouge Parish.
When they heard that licenses would be available in Baton Rouge on Monday, they rushed to obtain one and swiftly looked up justices of the peace on a list provided by the Clerk of Court’s Office.
They found Moses Evans Jr., a former police officer who performs weddings out of his tiny sanctuary with wooden pews. Some of Evans’ family sat in the rows and served as witnesses while Stevie Wonder songs played in the background. Unaccustomed to same-sex marriages, Evans stumbled, calling one of the spouses “wife” before announcing, about 7:20 p.m., that Maddux and Granger were “husband and husband.”
Granger and Maddux were one of a handful of other jubilant, tearful and anxious same-sex couples who filed for marriage licenses.
“Within three or four days of knowing each other, we automatically knew we wanted to always be with each other and have the same benefits as everybody else,” Maddux said.
The two said they wanted to wait to marry in Baton Rouge, their home of two years, instead of getting married in another state. They often wind up wearing similar outfits by accident, but today, both chose purple polo shirts because it’s “the best color,” Maddux said.
The announcement was a surprise for some of the couples Monday afternoon. Many assumed that it would still be several days or even weeks until government officials would allow them to legally wed.
“Thank you for doing this. I know you could have held out, so we really appreciate it,” Amy Scott gratefully told an employee with the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk’s Office who certified her marriage license to fiancée Stephanie Pitre.
Scott, 39, and Pitre, 33, are hair stylists who have worked together for eight years and dated for 31/2 . Pitre wept as she signed the certificate.
“I’m just so happy that now everyone can marry who they love,” she said through tears, holding Scott’s hand.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry in every state, almost all of the country moved forward with implementation. But Louisiana clerks, taking the lead from state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, said they planned to wait until the 25-day rehearing period for the U.S. Supreme Court before issuing the licenses. On Monday morning, clerks tentatively said they planned to wait until the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its own ruling reversing the state’s gay marriage ban.
But when word got out that Jefferson Parish began issuing licenses to same-sex couples, other parishes soon followed.
In the capital region, East Baton Rouge came first. Clerk of Court Doug Welborn said he felt more comfortable after Jefferson Parish had set the precedent.
Throughout the day, six couples in East Baton Rouge Parish filed for marriage licenses. At least two more filed in Ascension Parish.
The first couple in East Baton Rouge Parish was Scott Kirkland, 47, and Kenneth Parker, 43, both natives of Baton Rouge, who obtained the license at the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk’s Office on Coursey Boulevard.
“We didn’t know if we would face protesters,” Kirkland said.
But there were no protesters at the site.
Next came B.J. Sommers and Kimmie Kirkpatrick, who have been together for 16 years. They had a civil union ceremony among friends and family 15 years ago.
But on Monday afternoon, as they filed to make their union legal, the two women in their 50s were a couple of blushing brides.
“We’ve been waiting way too long,” Kirkpatrick said. She took the afternoon off work to meet her longtime fiancée at City Hall on Monday, only hours after the announcement that East Baton Rouge would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. “We thought it would come in our lifetime but not this soon.”
Sommers said in addition to being recognized as equal in the eyes of the law, the ability to wed gives them peace of mind because they can’t be denied visitation rights in the hospital, and they can’t be stripped of each other’s property in the event one of them dies.
“This isn’t about religion,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is about equal rights. This is about not worrying about what happens to her if I get sick.”
Kayla, 31, and Ashley Bourgeois, 34, were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Ascension Parish. The Bourgeoises, who changed to a joint surname after their commitment ceremony in 2013, echoed the sentiment that they want equal rights as other married couples.
The license means Kayla Bourgeois can be there for Ashley Bourgeois, a construction worker, if she were ever injured and in the hospital.
“It’s not actually the piece of paper. It’s the rights behind it,” Kayla Bourgeois said, welling up with tears. “If something were to happen to Ashley...”
As the Bourgeoises were finishing up with their paperwork, another couple, Amanda Cannon, 26, and Jami Moore, 23, of Gonzales, showed up for their license. They already were planning a wedding July 11 and came from a midday fishing trip at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center’s pond.
“We’re doing it in like 14 days, so it’s like perfect timing,” Moore said.