In just a few hours at 12:01 am on Thursday, Dec. 6, JP Persall and her partner of 10 years Diana Wickman will become one of the first same-sex couples in Washington state to receive a marriage license.
Both women served 22 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, where they met and fell in love.
I spoke on the phone to JP this evening, just moments after Gov. Gregoire certified the Referendum 74 vote that legalized same-sex marriage in Washington state.
As she certified the vote, Gov. Gregoire said, “In just a few hours, all Washington families will have the opportunity to receive a marriage license. As one of three states in the nation where voters affirmed marriage equality at the ballot box – there is no more resounding endorsement. I thank them for standing up for what is right.”
I asked JP how it felt to hear those words and to be one of the 10 same-sex couples who won the Thurston County lottery to receive a marriage license tonight in Olympia.
“We’re so proud to be Washingtonians tonight. We can’t believe this is happening. The support has been overwhelming. It’s been humbling. And as every day goes by we’re more and more excited that we are a part of this wave of freedom. It’s like the Liberty Bell has rung for us.”
Most of their years in the Coast Guard were served under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. I asked if the emotions they were feeling today were at all comparable to those they felt when DADT was repealed. After all, the advent of voter-endorsed marriage equality and the repeal of DADT are major civil rights achievements which affect their lives and for which they have worked.
“Since ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal happened first, it holds a specialness that cannot be equaled. However that was more our professional life. On a personal basis, to get the public support and the legal recognition of our union hits us on a personal level that just can’t be matched.”
“It’s sort of comparing apples to oranges, although it’s all the same. There’s just something different about marriage equality that’s much more personal. We are on cloud nine tonight. It’s sort of like the circle has closed, even though there’s more work to be done. We live in Washington, the voters have voted this in, and we’re just so appreciative.”
She went on to express gratitude and admiration for Sen. Patty Murray’s and Sen. Maria Cantwell’s dedication to the repeal of DADT, and for Gov. Gregoire’s leadership on getting the marriage law passed.
“Gov. Gregoire, what a bold move for her to have signed this law many months ago” before anyone knew whether Washington voters would approve Referendum 74. “What courage that takes for someone to do that. We’re in awe of these people who are standing up for us that don’t know us. They just know that this is the right thing to do.”
And what will they do tomorrow after they’ve received their marriage license?
“We just want to go up to the state capitol, stand on the steps, take a deep breath and appreciate the freedom we have been given by the State of Washington.”
I asked what their experiences have been in Sequim, the small town where the couple makes their home. Clallam County, where Sequim is located, narrowly rejected R-74.
“Even in Clallam County, when we picked out our rings, we were treated with respect. And when I ordered the cupcakes, of all things, for our wedding (which will have a chocolate and wine theme!) — even the cupcakes, I let her know, they’re for our wedding. We have received such support. And that’s really the issue: just show me respect. I’m not asking you to approve. I’m just asking for decent, human respect.”
The comments on marriage-related articles published in the local Port Angeles and Sequim newspapers, JP says, have been overwhelmingly supportive. And the Sequim Gazette has even sent a photographer to cover the events in Olympia tonight.
“Isn’t that wonderful? Little ole Sequim, population 6,500, is sending a reporter out to Olympia to cover this issue. Like I said, we are just overwhelmed. We have received more support than anything else. I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it. I don’t know, I guess because I served in the military for so long in the closet that I just feel like the lid is coming off, I’m alive, and watch out!”