Thursday morning came earlier for some than others. By 8 a.m., at least a dozen same-sex couples were lined up at the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office seeking marriage licenses. At least one couple had waited outside the county administration building in Port Orchard since 6:30 a.m. for a watershed moment in their lives and the state’s history.
With the passage of Referendum-74, supporting legislation allowing same-sex marriage in Washington State, Thursday was the first day same sex couples could apply to wed. The auditor saw double the business for a typical winter day.
“We are amazed, ecstatic and amazed,” said Mel Wensel, 52, of Port Orchard, who has been in a committed relationship with her partner Traia Wensel, 45, for 12 years. The couple from Port Orchard were the early birds who got there at 6:30 a.m., and they were the first Kitsap County same-sex couple to receive a marriage license.
The early hour and the significance of the day were not lost on county employee Dana Coggon, in charge of the county’s Noxious Weed program, to eradicate invasive vegetation. Coggon showed up with a carafe of Starbucks and offered a cuppa to those embarking on a new chapter of their lives.
“It was warming my heart to see people stand in line, so I thought, ‘Why not bring coffee?'” Coggon said.
The simple act of kindness hit a little closer to home for Coggen, a Tacoma resident. Although everyone in her immediate (albeit tiny) staff knows of Coggen is lesbian, Thursday’s coffee handout was her workplace coming out.
Coggon hasn’t advertised her sexual orientation one way or another at work. “I don’t think my sexual orientation has anything to do with how I do my job,” she said. “(It) is only a piece of who I am.”
Coggen and her partner of just over a year are not ready to make a permanent commitment, but the passage of Ref-74 has them thinking.
“I’m happy to see this day,” Coggon said. “Having that opportunity is just amazing. I’m now told I’m equal … mostly …. ’til the federal government gets it figured out.”
A number of the same-sex couples I interviewed said they are carefully watching Supreme Court challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
Coggon and others took heart from the fact that statewide, voters in November upheld legislation allowing gay marriage by 53.7 percent; in Kitsap County, 53.99 percent approved.
“I don’t publicize my personal life, because I’m afraid of how people might view me,” Coggon said, getting choked up. “To have the community I serve in validate who I am is amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Coggon, 34, said she wants to be “very thoughtful” about making a lifetime commitment to her partner. Despite the lack of federal approval, the fact that they can even have that conversation blows Coggon away.
“I think it’s a big step. It’s a huge step, and it’s great,” she said.