From a Secret Wedding to Legal Marriage: A Lesbian Love Story in the Shadow of Prop 8

by KishaLynn Elliot

My name is KishaLynn Elliot and I’m from San Diego, California. 

One night in 2006, a friend of mine dragged me out for drinks in West Hollywood. We’re sitting at the bar right in front of the entrance and for some reason I just felt something so I turned around and curtains parted and this gorgeous, tall Black woman walked into the place. I went to introduce myself to her and she said, “Hi, my name’s Shelli with an I.” And I loved that. 

Just in that very moment, “Check On It” by Beyonce came on, which is, like, my favorite song in the world. And as I light up when the song came on, her face lit up when the song came on. And we were like, Let’s go do this. We danced to that song and a couple of other songs, and then finally I said, “Come over to the table and meet my friend.” And that’s when I found out that she was from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I asked her what she did and she said she was a chef. I looked at my friend and I said, “It’s a wrap. This one’s mine.”

After about a year, we moved in together and that’s when we started thinking about, “Hey, we think we want to take this all the way.” At the time, we wanted to get married but marriage wasn’t legal in the state. A couple months before our first anniversary as a couple, California courts decided that they were going to begin issuing licenses to same sex couples who wanted to be married. Shelli and I kind of looked at each other and we said, “Should we do it?” It was like, “Yeah, we better go do it while we can.”

We went down to the courthouse and we were nervous. We weren’t sure if they were going to actually issue us a license. I remember we went up to the window and we said, “We’d like a marriage license, please.” The guy was so nice and he… basically, we stood there and raised our hands and asked us to sign here and here and he said, “Here you go. Here’s your marriage license.” 

This was just a secret between us because it felt a little experimental at the time, but we walked out of the courthouse with our papers and we said, “Okay, great. What kind of wedding are we going to have?” But then unfortunately a couple days later, Prop 8 – we found out through the news that Prop 8 got enough signatures to make it on the ballot later that year. Proposition 8 was a proposition that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in the state. We decided to proceed with our plans to have our wedding or our marriage ceremony on the 4th of July, but because of Proposition 8 we decided not to include any of our friends and families in that because we didn’t want them to be as confused as we were about what it would mean if it passed. 

So on the 4th of July, we had our pastor and our photographer come and meet us down on the beach. Our pastor married us, our photographer witnessed the ceremony and took pictures and we had our little teddy bear Giggles as a part of the ceremony. She was the ring bearer.

After that ceremony, it was strange because we’re married, but are we married? We wanted to include our friends and family but we didn’t want to include them in the confusion, so the decision that we made was to announce that we were engaged. We let our friends and family know, “Hey, we’re engaged and we’re going to get married in April.” At the same time, it gave us a really good way to activate around No on Prop 8 because we wanted to get married and we wanted people to see that we… “This is what you’re stopping if you vote yes.” I think I was a little bit more active on No on Prop 8 than I was on the Barack Obama campaign, though I was definitely involved in both.

After that ceremony, it was strange because we're married, but are we married?

Election night comes and our group of our friends decided to have a viewing party and we went, and it’s a very exciting time. It’s all of our Black friends and we’re just waiting to find out if in fact history is going to be made. It was probably about a few minutes before 9:00 PM but just I heard the room erupt, and I looked at the screen and it said, “Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States.” Everyone was so exuberant and exciting. I was like, “Yes, yes, yes.” Then I looked down at the bottom of the screen and ticking across in small letters, it also said that Proposition 8 had passed. 

I just stopped and I froze in my track and looked at my wife and I said, “Look, Prop 8 passed.” We immediately just felt completely disconnected from everyone else in the room. We were the only gay people in the room. We were only gay couple. I looked at her and I said, “Let’s get out of here.”

After we recovered from the shock of that loss, we started hearing from our friends and family who wanted to know, “Is the wedding still on?” 

We said, “Yes. This is exactly why.” So we shifted focus to, “Let’s have an amazing wedding in April.” We actually got married in Orange County, which is funny and that’s not what you would expect, but we had a gorgeous wedding on a 90-foot yacht called the Dream Maker surrounded by 50 of our closest friends and families. We celebrated all night long, and when the wedding was over we kind of went back to our lives. 

There was another court ruling that said the couples that had… the same-sex couples that had managed to get married during the time, that it was legal would be grandfathered in, so our marriage license would still be valid in the state. We were one of the 18,000 couples who were allowed to be married. We kept the fact that we had in fact gotten one of those coveted marriage license to ourselves and said, “You know what? We’ll share this news when everybody can have this news to share, if ever.” 

For the next four years, we went about our lives. Shelli was working her job as a chef. I had left my job and started my own company. I was working in my office one night and another headline popped up, The Supreme Court Rules That Prop 8 is Unconstitutional. I called my wife into my office and I said, “Babe, oh my gosh. The Supreme Court just knocked down Proposition 8.” 

We both go, “What does this mean?” 

I said, “I think it means that we did it. I think that it means that marriage is going to be available to same sex couples, any same sex couple who wants to, and it’s going to be federally recognized.”

So again, our friends and family, here they come, “Oh, are you guys going to get legally married now?” That’s when we were able to share with them that, “You know what? In fact, we’ve actually been legally married this whole time but we just wanted to share it when it was something that could truly be shared with our entire community.” My mom was a little upset to find out that I had gotten married, but I explained to her that this is why. It was about equality. It was about equity. It was about wanting to have that equal right, that civil right for all, versus being special. She understood. She forgave me. 

Even today, it still feels like because we are same sex couples that which was given to us could still be taken away and I do think about it every day, especially when I look at the Supreme Court. The composition of SCOTUS is not the same today. The world is not the same today as it was. You want to hope and believe that your love can prevail, but there’s still that question at the back of the mind. There’s still that feeling that because you’re different, someone can decide to take away a right that you should have access to.

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