MOREHEAD, Ky. — As April Miller drove to work, still too stunned to grasp the magnitude of the fight erupting around her, an old song crackled over the car radio.
“Will you still love me for the rest of my life?” the band Chicago sang. “I can’t go on if I’m on my own.”
Miller pulled over. And for the first time since she and her partner stepped into the vortex of history, she wept.
“I had been trying to keep it together, keep it even, trying not to let my blood pressure go up,” she said.
The day before, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused her a license to marry Karen Roberts, her partner for more than a decade. Rather than comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage nationwide, the Apostolic Christian has invoked “God’s authority” in refusing to license any marriages at all.
“All the excitement built up, then there was this crash of disappointment and anger,” Miller said. “I felt really marginalized, dehumanized, ostracized. I just emotionally crashed.”
For two months, Miller and Roberts have felt stuck on what seems like an endless carnival ride: U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses. The couple celebrated and dashed to the courthouse, holding hands, but Davis denied them. An appeals court upheld Bunning’s order. Another dash to the courthouse, another denial. Then the Supreme Court denied the clerk’s request for a reprieve. A fourth run to the courthouse, a fourth denial.
The couple has lived quietly together for years, never intending to lead a battle that has consumed their town of Morehead, where Miller is a tenured university professor and Roberts, a retired teacher, looks after their 21-year-old disabled daughter.
They never went to a gay pride parade or joined an LGBT group. Now they see their faces on the front pages of newspapers, just like Davis. Miller said she feels like they’re walking parallel paths, under the unexpected glare of television cameras.
“We understand how hard it is to stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “This is really the first time that we’ve done that. We know from this experience how hard it is. There are some days when all you want to do is give up. She’s standing up for what she believes in too. And we respect her for it.”
The couple met 20 years ago and became best friends. A decade later, they realized they were in love. They divorced their husbands, exchanged promise rings and started a family. They’ve chosen to live openly as a couple, but quietly, only confirming their relationship if someone asked. They moved to Kentucky nearly 10 years ago when Miller was hired as an assistant dean at Morehead State University.
They have struggled with discrimination, they said, but never because of their sexual orientation. Roberts’ daughter Jessica has Down syndrome, along with visual and hearing impairments, so they focused on advocating for children with disabilities.
They are the sort of couple that eats leftover meatloaf on Friday nights, bickers about grocery lists and laundry, and sometimes finishes each other’s thoughts, “just like every other old married couple,” Roberts said.
They celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark decision by exchanging wedding rings — simple white gold bands, ringed in diamonds. Then, Miller saw on the local evening news that their county clerk was refusing to issue marriage licenses.
Miller stormed into their bedroom and woke up Roberts.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Miller remembers saying. “We are going to make something happen about this. We are not going to sit by and let her say that we can’t get married.”
The ACLU sued Davis on behalf of Miller and Roberts, a gay couple and two straight couples.
Some in their town have come to see them as heroes since then. Others consider them rabble-rousers, needlessly forcing a kind, Christian woman to forsake her conviction. They argue that the couples could simply go to another county, less than an hour’s drive away, where clerks are issuing licenses.
But the couples counter, and the courts have agreed, that they shouldn’t have to.
“This was about us that first day — when we couldn’t get a license, it was about us,” Roberts said.
“But we have a home and cars and professions and a really committed relationship and a family that’s not going to bust up over this. A lot of these kids don’t,” Miller continued. “And they need somebody that will stand up and say that. It’s really not about us anymore. This has gotten a lot bigger than us.”
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