Texas Military Couple Gives Back

Erin & Samantha Kish • Austin, Texas

This story was originally published in October 2014, shortly before the launch of Texas for Marriage, the public education campaign dedicated to winning marriage for same-sex couples in Texas. 

Last year, Samantha Kish knew she was ready to take the next step with the love of her life, Erin. She started asking her friends about what kinds of rings they thought Erin might like, bought the ring, and prepared to pop the question. Then she talked to Erin’s parents, asking for their support. She was ready to ask the love of her life to marry her. 

Little did she know, all of Samantha’s loved ones were trying to suppress laughter as she talked to them: Erin had already asked for their friends’ blessing to propose to Samantha, and was preparing to ask Samantha’s parents.

“My parents have loved me no matter what,” Samantha said of coming out to her family. “They loved Erin from that point – they were really accepting and loving.” Samantha’s parents (who shared their story with Freedom to Marry here) were already ready to give Erin their blessing, and Samantha was in for a huge shock.

“All of this time, I thought I was going to plan something really special and propose, and in actuality, she was the one,” Samantha laughed. “I came home for a long weekend, and she surprised me with a boat ride on a river in Austin, and she and her friends had written a song for me. I don’t even remember saying yes. I think I just said, ‘You can’t be serious.’”

No matter what it took, we did it anyway.

Erin and Samantha are both from Michigan, where they met when Erin was working at an ice cream shop. After a few years of long-distance dating, Samantha moved to Texas while Erin was in school at Baylor University. They were still separated by an hour and a half drive, as Samantha was going to culinary school in Dallas. And when Samantha joined the army last year, they spent seven months with extremely limited contact as she completed Basic Training for the Army Reserves in South Carolina. “The majority of our relationship, we’ve been long distance,” Samantha said. “No matter what it took, we did it anyway.”

They were both finally living in Austin, though, when they decided to get married. However, because laws in Texas deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, the women could not legally celebrate their commitment to each other there. The state they both grew up in, Michigan, wouldn’t respect their marriage, either. Since the two states that they think of as “home” wouldn’t allow them to get married, they used their last option: Canada, where Erin has dual citizenship.

For their legal wedding, Samantha wore her military uniform and Erin wore a vintage wedding dress to the court house in Canada. The next day, the couple celebrated with their family back in Michigan, Erin dressed in a wedding dressed designed by her maid of honor, Meghann Zeko.

It would be nice to feel like your home can be your home. You can't feel fully respected at home until your family is respected as a family.

Since the wedding this summer, the couple has been struggling due to Texas’ laws that deny any respect to their legal marriage. They’ve faced challenges in changing their last name and other logistical problems that come with their state denying respect for their commitment. “It makes me feel almost like I’m a criminal,” Erin said. “It really hit home to know that things aren’t equal. It’s your life and you’re living there and you can’t do something as simple as having the same family name.”

Erin and Samantha both do all that they can to give back to their community. Erin works with children with special needs as a speech therapist. And Samantha, in addition to being in the Army Reserves as a welder and machinist, volunteers as a firefighter, something that her father also does in Michigan. “She’s always felt it was her duty to protect our freedoms and protect what everyone before her has done,” Erin said of Samantha.

But despite all of the service that both women do for their country, their state, and their community, their marriage legally means nothing in Texas.

Erin and Samantha long to stay in Texas, but they know that they need acknowledgment and respect from their state in order to do that. “It would be nice to feel like your home can be your home,” Erin said. “You can't feel fully respected at home until your family is respected as a family. “

Photographs by Christopher Pritchard