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Marriage plans: As debate heads to voters, engaged Valley couple waits for gay marriage resolution

Not an entirely traditional family, Jodi, left, Maddy, and Jodi
Not an entirely traditional family, Jodi, left, Maddy, and Jodi's daughter Jacy, center, are creating their own family traditions. Jacy was 9 when her Mom and Maddy started dating, and she really struggled with their relationship at first. Now, she's happy for them both.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

When young Jacy from the Upper Valley called for a "family hug" on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon last summer, she was just excited to see Jodi and Maddy, who'd fallen behind on the hike to the night's campsite. She had no idea that Jodi, her mom, had deliberately dawdled on the trail, waiting for a private moment to ask Maddy to marry her.

Not much gets by this 11 year-old, who easily recites the story of her mom's first date with Maddy even though she wasn't there, but this time, she was taken by complete surprise.

"I didn't tell anyone," Jodi said, explaining that if she'd even hinted at her plans, everyone close to them soon would have known, spoiling the surprise. She even had the ring made in secret, enlisting the help of a Seattle friend to work with a jeweler in Green Lake in fashioning a sleek, modern ring from the diamond Jodi's family has passed down for generations.

"My grandmother gave me this ring, and it was her mother's, so it's my great-grandmother's ring that her husband gave her in 1918," Jodi said. "It was just a solitaire diamond, and I thought it's not likely I'm going to get Maddy to wear something that looks like that, so I was trying to find something more recessed."

When Maddy (who said yes) took the now "durable and sturdy" ring from her pocket -- her hands had swollen with the heat and it didn't fit just then -- to show Jacy, she said she'd found it on the trail. Jacy believed her, and asked if she could keep it. Maddy's response was "No, silly, your Mom just gave that to me!"

Months later, Jacy can tell you the whole story of the proposal, even though Jodi can't remember herself.

"I remember what you said, you told me," Jacy told her mother. "You were like 'Soooo, Maddy… I want to be with you for the rest of my life, and I was hoping you did, too,' or something."

"And then you kept talking," Maddy reminded her. "You said 'you know if you want to sleep on it, think about it, and tell me tomorrow. I mean, I'd rather you just tell me now!'"

"Well, of course I'd rather you just told me now," Jodi said in her defense.

They all laugh at this memory of a moment that might never have come, without the courage of both women and the support of their families and friends.

It's a moment that the Washington State Legislature recently voted in support of, with the legalization of same-sex marriage, and a moment that at least some opponents of the law say they don't want to deny anyone. The word marriage, though, is the problem.

"There are lots of relationships that are very meaningful to individuals. The vast majority of those are not called marriages," said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Backholm is also the chairperson of the newly formed Preserve Marriage Washington which filed Referendum 74 to repeal the state's law recognizing gay marriage. Governor Christine Gregoire signed SB6239 into law on Monday, Feb. 13, and Backholm filed plans for the referendum the next day.

A voter initiative, I-1192, opposing gay marriage had already been filed by Everett attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, and colleagues from Protect Marriage Washington. That initiative, should it gain 241,153 valid signatures by July 6, would ask voters to approve a legal definition of marriage as one man, plus one woman.

Pidgeon filed the initiative Jan. 9, he said, because it appeared that Gov. Gregoire was pushing to reform the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which protects agencies from lawsuits if they do not extend the rights of married couples to same-sex couples.

"We believed it was an opportune time for us to make our own push," he said, adding "I would like to see marriage restored to what it was before, and no-fault divorce."

For Pidgeon, the issue is all about Scripture.

"Marriage does not exist outside of Scripture," he said. "That's it's genesis, that's its definition."

Backholm was aware of I-1192, but said the referendum, which requires 120,577 valid signatures by June 6, is the appropriate response to the legislature's action, since it calls for a vote of the people to repeal SB 6239.

"We believe on an issue like this, the people should be able to give their input," Backholm said. "The definition of marriage is not just about people's living arrangements, or inheritance rights…. It is loaded with other closely-related issues."

Governor Gregoire, before signing the bill, talked about the possibility of a voter referendum, and said she believed that "If asked, if asked, the voters of the state of Washington will say 'yes' to marriage equality."

Although Jodi agrees that the issue will ultimately be resolved by people, she doesn't think it should come to a vote.

"I have always been against it going to a vote of the people, because it's not about what everybody thinks is right, it's about the right thing," she said.

"But the way people's minds are going to be changed is not through (the law change) although that may facilitate it," she continued. Referring to a newspaper article her father sent her, Jodi said the statistics are telling the story, as more gay people come out, and more people in general realize they know someone who is homosexual.

"Little by little, more people are coming out, even people you've known all your life. What are you going to do, not like them any more?" she asked. "People who know and love people who are gay vote overwhelmingly in favor of gay rights, and people who don't know them, don't."

While they await the outcome of these two petition drives, and possibly the November vote, Jodi and Maddy are discussing wedding plans. Although Jodi was married for nine years to Jacy's father, they had eloped, so neither woman has ever had the traditional storybook wedding. Their own ceremony will probably not be very big or formal, they say, just close friends and family, and probably not before the summer of 2013.

They do know where it will be, however.

"I wanted it to be Washington," said Jodi. "We both wanted it to be here."

Maddy added, "This is my state, and I grew up here. This was home, even when I was in the military, and I just wanted it to be here."

Jodi grew up in Minnesota, attended Luther College for her undergraduate work, then continued her education at the Universities of Iowa and Utah, before moving to the Valley in 1996 with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. She worked for a biotech company in the area, until Jacy was born, when she went to part-time work, and and now works at a retail store in Issaquah, where she met Maddy almost five years ago. She considers Washington her home, and as an outdoorswoman, she's trying convince Maddy to have a hike-in mountaintop ceremony.

Maddy grew up on Whidbey Island, and followed in her father's footsteps with a military career that lasted eight years. She went to Seattle University on an ROTC scholarship, where she earned a civil engineering degree, and competed for a national soccer title with her team. After graduation, she was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army, where she was a paratrooper and helicopter pilot, serving with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum and the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, as well as an overseas stint in Bosnia. She left the Army in 2002, largely, she says, because of "don't ask, don't tell," the military's official policy of banning openly gay people from serving, while allowing others to do so if they kept their sexual orientation private.

"Even though I was doing well, I just wanted to have a life," she said. "I never wanted to have that humiliation of getting kicked out, owe my tuition back for my degree, and blemish what was a great career. I just had really good reviews and respect from who I worked with and I didn't want this, thing, to blemish that, and degrade it."

Now that she's engaged, she says, "I just want to say that after eight years in the Army, serving under don't ask, don't tell, that I would really love to just be able to get married and have the rights that I served my country for."

Maddy had already "come out" to her family and close friends -- twice to her twin sister, who apparently didn't believe her the first time she heard -- but waited until she left the Army to tell her colleagues.

In contrast, Jodi hadn't come out to anyone, not even herself, when she first met Maddy five years ago. She knew they had become good friends, she said, but she didn't really pursue the relationship, even after friends encouraged her to.

"I literally thought about it, but I rejected the notion, because I'm straight," she said. "It still feels funny for me to say I'm a lesbian."

They'd known each other for about two years before Jodi's sudden realization that she was attracted to Maddy. "I acted on it within days," Jodi said.

According to Maddy, "She summoned me to dinner!"

That evening, the two admitted their feelings -- Maddy said she'd been harboring a secret crush for some time -- and then had to figure out what to do about them. Because they worked at the same store, and Maddy was a manager, they couldn't have a relationship. One of them had to quit, and both were prepared to do it when they approached the store manager, separately.

"I was sitting in his office, and said 'Well, I haven't told my friends or my family, or anything, but I really want to date Maddy. I've never dated a woman, but now I'm having to tell you!" Jodi recalled.

Maddy's talk with the store manager was a little bit cathartic, because she knew him so well. "I said you know my history… I've been in the Army for almost a decade, and then I worked at Home Depot and was on the road all the time. I've always put my careers first, and I've never had a life. And I finally get to have a life, and I need to put it first, so what do I need to do, so I can pursue this? Because I would really love to be with Jodi."

The solution to the work issue was that Jodi took a leave of absence for a few months, until Maddy's transfer to another store was finalized. Then they could date, and other issues came up, most notably, Jacy's initial reaction.

"That is gross! Just gross! You're not going to marry her, are you?" says Jodi, in imitation of how Jacy first responded. Talking over Jacy's loud denials, she continues "Yes you did, but then you said 'ok, but if you do, I want to be the flower girl!'"

So, make that two things they know for certain about their wedding.

In a few months time, they will also know how much longer they have to wait.

 

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