8 same-sex couples hoping Louisiana stands on the right side of history
October 01, 2014
It’s been an exciting few weeks for marriage in Louisiana, and now more than ever, families across the state are standing up and sharing their stories.
Last month, on September 3, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman became the first judge since June 2013 to uphold marriage discrimination in the case Robicheaux v. Caldwell. The out-of-step ruling was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where it has since been expedited on a fast track.
Just three weeks later, on September 22, a separate case, this one filed in state court, brought a renewed sense of hope to same-sex couples in Louisiana, rebutting Judge Feldman’s opinion. In Costanza and Brewer v. Caldwell, Circuit Judge Edward Rubin ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, granting one same-sex couple the ability to jointly adopt their son in the process.
Freedom to Marry spoke with these seven Louisiana couples who are all eagerly awaiting future movement on marriage in Louisiana, urging judges to stand on the right side of history. They are encouraging their home state to respect marriages for same-sex couples like them, and their stories make it more clear than ever that every day that the freedom to marry is denied in states across the country, real couples are harmed.
Ephesia Witherspoon-Jones & Tamerisk Witherspoon • Leesville
When Ephesia Jones and Tamerisk Witherspoon met in 2012, they were both in the Army, stationed in Korea. Although they were just friends at first, they kept getting closer. “We fell in love quick – she fell first, of course,” Ephesia joked. “She told me she loved me first. And then it took me a week or so.”
Ephesia has a four-year-old son named Kylin. He met Tamerisk about a year after the women had started dating. “It took about four or five months for them to get used to each other,” Ephesia remembered. “He was in that trouble-2s mode.”
Now, they just want to be a family like anyone else. Ephesia and Tamerisk married in Delaware this summer. And although they still cannot escape people noticing and reacting to their relationship when they go abroad, they have not faced much pushback since they got married.
Ephesia is hoping that future judges will rule in favor of respecting marriages like theirs in her home state of Louisiana. “It would mean so much,” she said, discussing her roots in Louisiana and long history in the state. “That’s something that would be amazing.”
Rayme Black & Calyn Kuiper • New Orleans
“The main thing I can say about my family is love,” Rayme Black, who lives with the love of her life Calyn Kuiper and their son, Conner, in New Orleans, said. “Calyn is very inspiring and optimistic.”
“Our family has really learned to lean on each other and support each other,” Calyn said. “But I think my biggest hope is that as Conner grows, things change. I hope he never has to feel out of place, different or ridiculed because he has two moms.” Rayme is Conner’s legal parent, and Calyn has no way to legally adopt him. “He so effortlessly calls me Momma and Rayme Mommy,” Calyn said. “Even though we know in our hearts we are a family, it would be amazing to be recognized as one and legally protected as one.”
Rayme and Calyn were heartbroken when a federal judge ruled against the freedom to marry last month, but they are hoping that future judges end the denial of marriage to families like theirs. They got engaged in December 2013, and they have a wedding date set for October 18, 2014. They plan to get married in New York City, and they are hopeful that when they do wed, they will be legally respected in Louisiana.
They will continue to hope for their home state to respect marriage for couples like them. “Without this marriage, I feel like something is missing,” Rayme said. “It would mean everything to a lot of same-sex couples to be able to freely love their partners. It would be absolutely amazing to just be able to walk out of my house knowing that the person I am with is my wife and I am her wife and that Conner is in a happy and healthy family.”
Courtney & Nadine Blanchard • Raceland
Courtney and Nadine Blanchard still live in the same small southern town where they both grew up. Their neighbors, who they say are like family, are incredibly supportive of their relationship, and their families live close by. And the entire community is anxious for Louisiana to respect the marriages of same-sex couples.
In December of 2011, Courtney and Nadine embarked on the process of having a child together. They both wanted to be a part of the process, so Courtney provided the eggs and Nadine carried the child. They said that it was meant to be – they found out they were pregnant after their first try, in April 2012. “The love we have for this child is something no one can explain,” Courtney. said “He is our world, and we are his.”
However, their son is not legally Courtney’s. “Since Nadine was the birth mother, she was the only one who was able to have her name on the birth certificate in the state of Louisiana despite me being his biological mother,” Courtney said. Only married couples whose marriages are respected in Louisiana can apply for second-parent adoption in their state.
Despite the fact that they would not be respected back home, Courtney and Nadine decided to get married in Iowa while on vacation. “It meant the world to us to be able to have that moment together with our son in our arms,” Courtney remembered. “Coming home was bittersweet, however, and even though we had that piece of paper, it meant nothing here in Louisiana.”
So they decided to join the lawsuit with two other same-sex couples, Robicheaux v. Caldwell, in order to fight for respect for their marriage license at home. “This case means a lot to us, as it determines when I can be recognized as a legal parent to my biological son along with my wife,” Courtney said. “We have plenty of people on our side, and there are stories similar to ours all over the state of Louisiana. We are giving those families who don’t have a voice something to celebrate.”
Courtney and Nadine are hoping that future judges in Louisiana will make the right decisions and make their dream come true. Courtney said that dream is for their son as well as for them: “We want to be able to tell our son that we never gave up and did everything we could to fight for equality for all families.”
Donna Buffoné & Diane Buffoné
For Donna and Diane, it was love at first sight. “I had to marry her!” remembered Donna. “And she said yes!”
Donna and Diane flew to New Mexico, where same-sex couples have the freedom to marry. Their reception was beautiful, held beside a pond in February. For Donna, it was incredibly urgent that they get married. Diane was going to undergo surgery soon, and Diane needed to be able to be there for her legally.
Luckily, when Donna announced herself at the hospital as Diane’s wife, she was able to stay with her. However, Donna and Diane regret that their loved ones weren’t able to see them get married. “How nice it would have been to have our family and friends there with us when we got married,” Donna said.
Donna and Diane are incredibly optimistic about the future of the freedom to marry in Louisiana – they know it will happen, and when it does, they’ll be the biggest supporters of couples getting newly married. “I signed up to officiate weddings,” Donna mentioned. “So that when it becomes legal in Louisiana I can officiate weddings.”
Larry and Eric Ashlock-Chambless • Gonzales
When Larry and Eric Ashlock-Chambless finally met, it only confirmed what they had been suspecting for the past month – that they were falling for each other. Although they lived 700 miles apart, they met online and talked with each other constantly over text message and phone calls. Larry lived in Louisiana, and Eric lived in Illinois.
But when they met up in Florida, they immediately began making plans for Eric to move to Louisiana to be with Larry and the nephew he was raising. While visiting Eric’s family, Larry proposed to him beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Illinois. And Eric moved to Louisiana a few weeks later.
When Illinois legally began respecting marriages between same-sex couples, Eric and Larry flew there to be married. “The wedding itself was beautiful,” said Larry. “Both sets of parents, one set of grandparents, and a 90-year-old great grandmother were among the 75 or so that attended the ceremony.” Eric’s grandmother mentioned that while she originally had thought that it would be strange for two men to have the “first dance” together, as she watched then dance, she realized “it was the most natural and normal thing.”
Back in Louisiana, they were able to unofficially celebrate with friends. Larry’s teacher friends surprised him at school with cake and gifts, and another group of friends planned a dinner and gifts for the both of them at a restaurant. Larry and Eric feel lucky to have such enthusiastic and supportive friends, but they wish their marriage was respected in the state they live in.
The uncertainty surrounding the state of the freedom to marry in Louisiana weighs heavily on them, however, and they have many questions about possible scenarios that they may encounter as they go through life. “We do feel like second-class citizens,” Larry said. They are happy that further judges will be ruling on the freedom to marry in their state, and hope that they make the right decisions – affirming the freedom to marry for all.
Derek Penton & Jon Robicheaux • New Orleans
Although Derek Penton has been granted the power to officiate weddings in Louisiana, his marriage to his husband, Jon Robicheaux, is not respected in his home state. The couple married in Iowa in 2012, but their home state of Louisiana does not respect them as husbands.
"Louisiana is our home," Derek said. "And when you can't get married in your state, it makes you feel unwelcome in your home. We have to jump through hoops to do things that should be simple - filing taxes, being respected as a family. All of those hoops tell us one thing, again and again: You are excluded."
That’s why Jon and Derek mounted a federal lawsuit against the constitutional amendment in Louisiana that denies respect for marriages between same-sex couples.
On September 3, however, U.S. District Court Judge Feldman in Louisiana became the first federal judge since June 2013 to uphold marriage discrimination.
"We will continue to explore all of our options,” Jon and Derek wrote in response to the ruling. “We have always known that this would not be the end-all decision for either parties involved - we will continue to move forward.” Jon and Derek have since appealed their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
"I came to believe that the most active thing I could do to make lives better for LGBT folks here is to marry my husband Jon and take our battle for marriage recognition into the legal arena," Derek. "But really, I don't think of this as a battle - a 'battle' implies an enemy. It implies 'others.' It implies 'them.' But this is not about 'us vs. them.' It's not a battle. It's a movement, and we're proud to be a part of it."
Angela Costanza & Chastity Brewer • Lafayette
Angela Costanza and Chastity Brewer were married six years ago in California. And although it was a beautiful, joyous occasion they were able to celebrate with their then-4-year-old son, their marriage was not legally respected in their home state of Louisiana.
Because their marriage is not respected at home, Angela could not legally adopt her own son. Although Angela had been there when Chastity gave birth to their son, although Angela has raised him alongside Chastity for the past 10 years, they were not legally seen as a family. “We’ve been a family,” Angela said. “We planned him together. That’s my child in every sense of the way. If anything were to happen to him, I would have been very, very concerned.”
Because they longed to be an official family, Chastity and Angela brought a case to state court, known as Costanza and Brewer v. Caldwell. And on September 22, 2014, the couple received amazing news: U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rubin ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, granting Angela adoption rights and maintaining that the state’s ban on marriage between same-sex couples was unconstitutional.
This decision was a huge win for Angela and Chastity, and as the case works its way through the appeals process, they are excited to continue making the case that marriage matters to all families.
Robert Welles & Garth Beauregard • New Orleans
25 years ago, Robert and Garth met in Key West, Florida. Mutual friends assured them that they would be perfect together, and it turns out they were right: the two have been inseparable ever since.
The couple moved to New Orleans five years ago, and the two of them truly do make a perfect pair. “We’re like two peas in a pod,” Robert said. “We love the same things, and hate being apart for long periods.” However, although they have been together for a quarter of a century, they cannot legally express that commitment through marriage.
Robert and Garth can barely believe that their long, loving relationship can’t culminate in marriage in their home state. “It is important for us to have the protection that marriage allows,” Robert said. “We want to be acknowledged for whom we are and what we have accomplished together. We have come so far, from hiding in the closet to being able to hold hands in public. It's now time for me to say with my head held high this is my husband.”