PHOENIX — Karen Bailey and Nelda Majors were a couple for 50 years before they told friends and family about their relationship.
They kept it secret to avoid the hostility that they saw lesbians and gay men endure throughout much of their lifetime. Six years after they revealed their relationship, the partners witnessed something that they never thought was possible when they met in the 1950s: gay marriage is now legal.
“We would have never, ever thought we would have had this opportunity,” Bailey said hours after she stood among the first same-sex couples in Arizona to get marriage licenses.
Baily and Majors were lead plaintiffs in Majors v. Horne, Lambda Legal’s challenge to Arizona’s seven same-sex marriage ban.
On Friday, same-sex marriage became legal in Arizona, a sharp turn for a state that became ground zero in the clash over gay rights less than a year ago when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians.
Same-sex couples lined up to marry at the courthouse in downtown Phoenix immediately after Attorney General Tom Horne announced that the state wouldn’t challenge a federal court decision that cleared the way for same-sex unions in the state.
The decision bookends two weeks of nonstop court rulings across the nation, with judges striking down bans on same-sex unions and conservative state officials pushing back in a struggle that has increasingly gone in favor of gay marriage supporters.
The federal court decision bars Arizona officials from enforcing a 1996 state law and a 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage.
After Horne’s news conference, a crowd of about a dozen couples cheered and rushed into the clerk’s office in Phoenix, smiling and hugging in a scene that played out across the state.
Among the couples there were Bailey and Majors. Though marriage never seemed possible to them in their youth, they began to get hope in recent years as the nation started to debate the legality of same-sex unions.
Despite all the joy they felt Friday, Bailey said it was still hard to express her feelings about such a sweeping social turn-around that she witnessed in her lifetime. People can now see the couple and the two relatives they became parents to as a family, she said.
“It has been an amazing trip,” she said.
The couple of 56 years is going to see a wedding planner on Monday.
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