After more than 12 years together, Juneau residents Karen Wood and Darla Madden have decided to take the next big step in their relationship and marry, even though they aren't allowed to legally in Alaska.
Wood, 38, and Madden, 46, will be married Thursday in a private outdoor ceremony at a Unitarian church in San Francisco. Because of a recent state supreme court ruling, the women were unable to obtain a marriage license to make the union official in California, as they had hoped.
"I just thought, you know, we pay the same taxes, we do the same thing as any other family," said Wood, who parents a 4-year-old daughter, Willa, with Madden. "It's not right that we don't get the same legal and financial benefits - that (Willa) doesn't get the same legal and financial benefits - that every other family gets."
They know the marriage won't be officially recognized when they come home.
And opponents of gay marriage in Alaska say the people spoke resoundingly in 1998 when they supported a state constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriages.
But Wood and Madden say they were moved by a national groundswell that could lead to equality, and they wanted to be part of it.
"I've had people say to me, 'My god, this is just like Rosa Parks and the bus,'" Madden said, referring to the black civil rights movement icon. "We're really right on that cusp, it feels like."
In 1998, Alaska voters passed Measure 2, which reworded the state constitution to clarify marriage as "a civil contract entered into by one man and one woman that requires both a license and a solemnization."
Wood said she was inspired to propose to Madden after the same-sex marriage issue resurfaced with such abundance on a national scale. After she saw President Bush's statement proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage to be between one man and one woman, and after seeing actor Rosie O'Donnell and her partner announce their marriage on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall, she knew it was time to act.
"I think right now this issue, gay marriage, is the most important issue in the gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender community," said Wood.
"We want to make that commitment to our friends and family and it just seemed to be the right time," she said.
On Saturday, their friends threw them a reception at DIPAC hatchery. Dozens of their friends joined them for a buffet-style dinner and cocktails to support their decision to get married.
Madden said she thinks same-sex marriage is an issue about fairness and civil rights.
"We're not asking for the whole special rights thing. We just want the same rights," she said.
"We knew that even if we went to San Francisco and got a marriage license from the city of San Francisco that it would mean nothing here in Alaska, or the city of Juneau," said Wood. "I know that what we're going to go through has no legal standing, but I just really feel like our time is coming and it's going to come soon."
Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, a major proponent of Measure 2 in 1998, said he believes the legal definition of marriage in Alaska will remain the same for some time because of the measure's victory with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
"The issue has been decided as much as any issue has ever been decided," he said. "It's in our constitution."
"The people of Alaska have spoken very eloquently and strongly about this and I, as an elected official of Alaska, am happy to support the wishes of the people."
Leman said the recent developments regarding same-sex marriages in states including California, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have been handled incorrectly by certain mayors, judges and clerks.
"Anarchy is not the proper approach," he said. "There are ways to approach this and it's not blatant lawbreaking."
Leman said there are contractual options that homosexual couples can enter to deal with some of the legalities that come about between any couple, such as estates, property ownership and custody.
Some Alaska churches also present strong opposition to same-sex marriage.
"As far as this particular congregation is concerned, we don't believe that God allows (same-sex marriages)," said Rev. Jimmie Stringer of First Baptist Church in Juneau. "I think it's absolutely a moral issue, because the prohibition for homosexuality is part of the moral law of the Old Testament and it still stands."
"God loves everybody. What everybody does is their own business," he said. "Everyone is entitled to a freedom of choice. Everyone gets to choose what they do. As far as God is concerned, God does not permit same-sex marriages."
Amy Deininger, who along with her husband Charlie will accompany Wood and Madden to San Francisco, said there is more to same sex-marriages than the moral and legal issues that opponents raise.
"It's really much more an issue about equality and family and celebrating life," she said. "Being allowed to do all the same wonderful things that we all look forward to our whole lives, which is to live in a happy, committed, loving relationship and raise a family."
"We've given up the marriage certificate on one hand, but on the other hand we're going to have a very sweet, very meaningful, touching ceremony," said Deininger.
Wood and Madden said they know of numerous other Juneau homosexual couples who have celebrated their relationships with civil unions, but they believe there is a difference between a civil union and marriage.
"We know that separate is not equal and separate has never been equal," said Wood.
Wood and Madden said they may take part in other marriage ceremonies under different jurisdictions, possibly including Vermont or Canada, until they get the legal recognition they are seeking.
"We're just people who love each other and want to have a family and live in a beautiful place," said Wood.