MOREHEAD, Ky. — April Miller and Karen Roberts stood before a minister Saturday night, hand-in-hand, and said the two words they fought for months to exchange.
The people packed into the room around them jumped into a standing ovation. They all wore matching rainbow buttons that read #LoveWins.
The couple, the first denied a license by Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, celebrated their wedding Saturday, capping a months-long saga that landed them in the middle of a national firestorm over religious freedom and civil rights.
They laid out one rule for their guests: no one was to mention Davis.
“This is about us and our wedding,” Roberts said.
When the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the nation in June, Davis cited “God’s authority” and stopped issuing marriage licenses. Miller and Roberts, along with three other couples, filed a lawsuit against her.
Davis continued to refuse them, again and again, in defiance of a series of federal court orders. U.S. District Judge David Bunning held her in contempt on Sept. 3 and ordered her to jail.
Miller and Roberts, a couple for 11 years caring for a disabled daughter together, got a license the next day, issued by a deputy clerk who agreed to sign them in Davis’ absence. The couple, who still had to return the license to the clerk’s office for recording, worried about what might happen once Davis got back to work. So they scrambled together a private wedding, alone at their home, the following Thursday.
Roberts said it was not how she imagined her wedding would be. So they held a second ceremony Saturday in a reception hall at the Pines at Sheltowee in Morehead and invited 125: friends, family and dozens of people they met just four months ago, on the courthouse lawn outside Davis’ office.
On June 30, the morning after the clerk announced she would not issue licenses, couples and activists flocked to the courthouse. They returned day after day, and over time formed friendships and a grassroots advocacy group they called the Rowan County Rights Coalition.
Its roster now numbers in the dozens, with formal committees and elected positions, said Mary Hargis, a member of the group. They’ve created an outreach program for transgendered youth and are starting an initiative to distribute stickers to gay-friendly local businesses.
They sat in the back of the room Saturday night, hugging and weeping.
“It’s really affirming to see their love validated,” said Michael Aldridge, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, one of those present. The ACLU had sued Davis on behalf of the couples originally denied their wedding licenses.
“It’s been an amazing journey and we’d like to thank all the people who stood with us from June 30 to today,” Miller announced Saturday. “This is your party too.”
Though they got what they wanted, the couple acknowledges their legal battle is far from over. The lawsuit, titled April Miller et al v. Kim Davis, is likely to drag out for many months more.
But the couple tried to turn the conversation away from the Davis and the ongoing legal questions Saturday night.
They exchanged vows, promising to love each other in “joy as well as sorrow, triumph as well as defeat.” They kissed and swayed into a slow dance.
Months ago, as the controversy reached a fever pitch, Miller was driving to work when a Chicago song came across the radio. “Will you still love me for the rest of my life,” the band sang, and she pulled over her car and wept.
The couple chose that song for their first dance.
Nashia Fife, a member of the Rowan County Right Coalition, wiped tears as she watched from the back of the room.
“It’s a really big reward for all our hard work to culminate in a big, beautiful party,” she said. “It’s so wonderful, so long overdue.”
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