Gay couples from Oklahoma plan marriages in San Francisco

Sunday, February 29th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EUFAULA - When Karen Weldin accepted Susanne Bain's marriage proposal, the idea seemed great, but the women weren't sure how, when or where they'd be able to tie the knot.

Now, Weldin has a vision of the two getting married in a San Francisco park with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Weldin and Bain, of Stigler, make up one of two northeast Oklahoma couples planning to travel to San Francisco on Monday to take advantage of the city's offer to marry gay couples.

Fernando Este and Don Glass of Tulsa are also headed to the West Coast. The Rev. Leslie Penrose of Tulsa's Community of Hope will conduct the marriage ceremonies.

Weldin, 50, said she and Bain, 63, wrote their own vows and are taking special music to play.

"I want it to be as perfect as possible," Weldin said. "Susanne and I have been together for 14 years, and we're finally going to be able to experience what should be our right to experience."

More than 3,400 gay couples have married since San Francisco started offering the nuptials on Feb. 12. A New York village has also started offering the ceremonies, although on a more limited scale. After a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, the state is set to begin authorizing the nation's first state-sanctioned gay marriages in May.

The couples realize the marriage licenses they receive won't be recognized when they return to Oklahoma.

Conservative legislators have been trying to strengthen the state's prohibition on gay marriages by defining marriage in the Oklahoma Constitution. So far, all proposals except one -- a House resolution calling for Congress to initiate hearings on the proposed federal constitutional amendment -- have been blocked in legislative committees.

Both Oklahoma couples said they have no immediate plans to wage a legal fight to have their unions recognized here.

"It's significant that we are dissenters of an unjust law," Weldin said. "But this is a personal step for us -- not a political act."

Even if their vows aren't recognized in their home state, Este, 45, said he and Glass, 39, still want to confirm their commitment to one another.

"It's a wonderful and historic opportunity that we can't ignore," he said. "Who knows when we'll get another chance?"

Este said the marriage would change little the relationship that began when the two met at a Tulsa's first gay pride parade in 1999. At first, they were just friends, but after a while, they realized they were in love.

"We got together for the same reasons as any other couple," said Este, a former chemical engineer who is pursuing a degree in library and information studies. "We have the same interests, the same values, and we both know what we want to accomplish with our lives."

For Weldin and Bain, Monday's ceremony will be the culmination of a relationship that began in 1989. The two met through mutual friends.

At first, they kept their relationship quiet. But when Weldin had a heart attack 10 years ago, the two became closer. They moved to an isolated gated community by Lake Eufaula and reprioritized their lives.

"I wasn't sure I was going to live very long," Weldin said. "We decided life is way too short to be living in fear."

Last year, Bain, who is retired from a cable business, gave Weldin a red plastic heart with a piece of paper inside that read, "Will you marry me?"

"Of course I said `Yes' right away, but we both knew that actually accomplishing it would be a task," said Weldin, operations director for Soulforce Inc., a nationwide organization that works with churches to promote the interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The two considered traveling to Canada, where gay marriages are legal, or to Massachusetts once gay marriages begin there. When San Francisco began issuing licenses, they bought plane tickets.

Said Bain: "We just didn't want to wait any longer."