Tag Archives: Same-sex marriage

County employee toasts same-sex couples with coffee

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.

Forget Las Vegas. There’s Heronswood.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe will recognize the passage of Referendum-74, which allows same sex marriage in Washington State, with a same-sex marriage event Sunday. The new law goes into effect at midnight Thursday.

The tribe, which supported Ref-74 and owns the world-renowned Heronswood botanical gardens near Kingston, on Sunday will offer same sex couples the chance for a “private, intimate ceremony” on the grounds.

The offer is being extended to up to 20 couples, according to Heronswood spokeswoman Ginger Vaughan. Each ceremony can include up to 12 guests, and a wedding officiant will be on site. Weddings on Dec. 9 will be limited to 30 minutes, but the grounds will be open to wedding parties for pictures and self-guided tours.

The gardens will open noon to 5 p.m. Sunday for the event. Heronswood is providing the rental free of charge, but donations will be accepted. Pre-registration is required.

The tribe is renovating the gardens with plans to re-open them to the public through special events — including weddings — and open houses several times a year.

“While Heronswood won’t officially begin scheduling weddings until early next year, the opportunity to host same-sex couples as they celebrate their special day was too important to pass up,” Vaughan said.

“Heronswood is a magical place that has touched the hearts and lives of many people,” said Noel Higa, Economic Development Director for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. “We can think of no better way to show our support and express our congratulations to the gay community than to welcome same-sex couples as among the first to get married there.”

While Sunday’s event at Heronswood is free, publicity from the event could position the economic development arm of the tribe to benefit from passage of R-74.

The Williams Institute, a UCLA-affliated think tank, used U.S. Census data to estimate that, within the first three years of same-sex marriage becoming legal, Washington will see 9,501 gay marriages. That’s about half of eligible couples.

The institute estimates that Maine, Maryland and Washington, which all legalized gay marriage in November, will see a total of $166.6 million over the next three years in wedding-related spending, with Washington’s portion being $88.5 million.

Space for the Heronswood event is limited to the first 20 same-sex couples who register. For reservations, contact JoAnn at 360-297-6305 or send an email to heronswoodgardens@gmail.com.

On Thursday, the Kitsap Sun will be covering the first day of legal same-sex marriage in Washington as it unfolds in Kitsap County. Any couple planning to marry as a result of Ref-74 and willing to be interviewed for the article should email chenry@kitsapsun.com or call (360) 792-9219.