10/15/2014 12:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Secrecy, Struggle And Enduring Love: How These Gay Couples Made It To Marriage


WASHINGTON -- Last week, the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in 11 states by declining to hear challenges to lower court rulings permitting such unions. For same-sex couples across the country, the announcement wasn't just an abstract legal breakthrough, it was personal. After years of doubt over whether their relationships would ever be formally recognized, the right to marry had finally come.

Those affected include Jodi Martin, 41, and Jenny Martin, 41, of Louisville, Colorado, who met in 2007 and will be getting married in October 2015; Kenny Wright, 43, and Bo Bass, 48, of Oklahoma City, who met in 1996 and got married shortly after the Supreme Court ruling; and Tim Sagen, 71, and Ken Hoole, 79, who met 47 years ago in Seattle and will get married this Thursday in Vermont. From first dates to fears of bigotry; from clever proposals to impromptu civil unions; from workplace rejection to societal acceptance, their stories illustrate the tumultuous journey taken by many gay Americans during the past few decades.

The couples, whose names were given to The Huffington Post by the pro-marriage equality group Freedom To Marry, were interviewed in the days after the Supreme Court news broke. Here is an edited version of the conversations.

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How did you meet?

Jodi Martin: We met years ago when we were working. We are both attorneys and we met at a law firm.

Jenny Evans Martin: Technically our first date would have been a concert. It was Maroon 5, Counting Crows. ... It was just like everybody else. You meet. You like each other. It develops slowly. There wasn’t a big hoorah.

Jodi Martin: It was [a secret]. We lived in Oklahoma, so I was actually not out, professionally, because there was no protection for me.

Jenny Evans Martin: Some friends [knew]. But the legal community in Oklahoma City is pretty small, so we had to be careful. But our close friends knew, and our family of course.

* * * * *

Kenny Wright: We met at the Habana Inn. It's a gay resort here in Oklahoma City. I was sitting in a room and we were having some cocktails. Bo walked by and kind of raised an eyebrow. "That guy's cute, I'm gonna go and talk to him." We ended up walking down to the pool, sitting and talking for a long time. That was the first kiss.

Bo Bass: He just looked great and had this, I don't know, I want to say glow. When I saw him, I was just like, "Oh my goodness."

Kenny Wright: I had moved here in May of 1996 from Texas. I had just left my ex. I met Bo shortly after. August is when we had made a commitment that we would take care of each other. That was August of 1996.

* * * * *

Ken Hoole: Tim was relatively new in the city of Seattle. I had lived there for a number of years. He was exploring a new bar. I had been there many times. I saw Tim. I thought he was somebody else I knew by the name of Tom. I waved to him and said "Hi," and went and sat down at another table. He got up, came over, and said, "Hi, I'm Tim."

Tim Sagen: My first thought was, "Geez, this guy is friendly." And once I sat down at this table it was almost love at first sight. It sounds funny, but it really was.

Ken Hoole: He had the guts to just come over and say hello and stick out his hand, which some people wouldn't do. ... That was our first date. It was 47 years ago.

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Ken Hoole, left, and Tim Sagen.

What were the early years like?

Jenny Evans Martin: We both wanted to get out of Oklahoma. We vacationed a lot in Colorado. We loved Colorado. We decided that the summer after our daughter finished 5th grade in 2012, when everybody would be scattering to middle schools, we would move.

Jodi Martin: It was pretty dramatic. We wanted to design our own law firm as well. So life changed professionally. But then on a personal level, it changed because of the fact that we could go out in town and hold hands and go out with our family and not look over your shoulder and wonder, "You know, who is there and what might happen?" Even our daughter noticed changes just at school. People didn’t bat an eye when she said she had two moms. Our family felt more, I don’t know, I hate to use the word normal, but it felt more like we were recognized as a family unit rather than something we were trying to hide and protect.

Jenny Evans Martin: I don’t know that we realized how much of the burden being closeted was until we didn’t have to do it anymore. There was just a lightness to that.

* * * * *

Kenny Wright: It was a big waiting game. We really didn't fight a lot in 18 years. I felt comfortable in our community. Bo has often been mistaken for a woman, even though he looks nothing like a woman. But we've had people who would drive by our house because we live on a main street and they'd see our gay flag and they would yell out, "fag, you faggot."

Bo Bass: It was awful. To always feel like someone could persecute you just because of who you are. It was awful.

Kenny Wright: It got easier over time. It is getting easier to the point where before I was totally against PDA and I'm getting used to the idea of it. It is scary because you can be confronted at any time. But I'm not going to hide who I am and what we have.

* * * * *

Ken Hoole: Tim was working for Boeing and they supposedly were kind of looking out for gay people. So we were cautious. Everybody was in those days. I wasn't open at my job [a bureaucrat for the city of Seattle]. But I don't have too much question that if they knew I was gay they probably would have fired me for no other reason.

Ken Hoole: Tim got a job offer in Fort Collins, Colorado. We had never heard of the place. ... He said, "Gee, maybe if I take this job for three or four years I will be in a position to move back to Seattle and do some consulting." Well, that turned into 34 years.

Tim Sagen: I wouldn't say it was tough on the relationship. In fact, maybe it strengthened it. It was hard to be apart and eventually, after flying back and forth on weekends and holidays, Ken decided maybe it was best to come to Fort Collins.

Ken Hoole: He moved to Fort Collins in 1969 and I followed him in 1971. As soon as I moved we got an apartment together and a couple years later we bought a house. He always said that he kept me in the closet for the first couple of months. But that is not exactly true. It is just that we were cautious. He worked for the city [of Fort Collins] and, of course, he was concerned that if they knew he was gay he would lose his job. We were fairly close to his boss and his boss' family, and it didn't take them too long to figure out what the score was.

Tim Sagen: We were so careful about it. I can't say we encountered bigotry. There was a lot of fear, of course, that we might get exposed. Before I met Ken, I had been at one of the gay bars in Seattle and some fellows suggested I go home with them for a party. It turned out they weren't gay. Their intention was to beat me up. Well, I realized that quickly. ... Thank goodness I could run.

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Jenny Evans Martin, center, and Jodi Martin, right, pictured with their daughter, Morgan.

What drew you to each other?

Jenny Evans Martin: Jodi can cook like nobody else. ... She has a phenomenal level of patience just in general. Everyone has patience. She is just a very patient person with situations, people, kids and work. It really stood out for me. She also has a really dry, quick wit, that I love. But she has that coupled with a pretty high level of intelligence. Having both those qualities together is also pretty rare. She is also, honestly, I think a marvelous parent. ... That and the cooking. Once she started cooking for me, it was over.

Jodi Martin: Wow. I should have gone first. One of the things is that Jenny knows me so well [laughter]. Jenny is one of the softest people and one of the most caring people that you will ever meet. She worries about everybody and everything -- how they feel and how they see things. ... Jenny can bring me back to reality about caring and compassion and just loving. That's the greatest thing about Jenny. No matter what happened in the day or what may have happened to her, she is just one of the most loving individuals that you could ever meet.

* * * * *

Kenny Wright: I had been looking for somebody and didn't know how to find that person. I was promiscuous. I was a big partier. The night I met Bo, and people kept telling him it was never going to last, we kind of, on a personal level, decided we wouldn't do that. So, it's just what the relationship was built on in the first place that just kept us going.

Bo Bass: It was his kindness, his personality, just everything about him.

* * * * *

Tim Sagen: He is a very kind person. He cares about others. And he pays a lot of attention to your own interests. I was extremely interested in the Seattle electric system, and probably the first thing we ever did is he took me to see a substation that Seattle Electric had built near where he lives. That showed how interested he is in somebody else's interests.

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Bo Bass, center left, and Kenny Wright, center right.

When did you decide you wanted to be married?

Jodi Martin: I proposed to her before we ever moved. Part of me wanted to do it anyway. The other part of me was like, "Gosh, we are moving our family to a whole other state." Colorado has always been a dream of mine, and it became a dream of hers as our relationship solidified.

Jodi Martin: I put together a scrapbook photo album that went through our relationship, just from being friends to different events that we had done.

Jenny Evans Martin: I had loved this scrapbook. It was so pretty. I was flipping through there, and when I flipped to the last page it said: "Will you marry me?" and she had a ring.

Jodi Martin: At the time, we had been following Colorado's politics pretty closely. They had just gone through a battle in the legislature for civil unions and it had been defeated… It was horrible. We were actually live streaming it on the computer in Oklahoma in the middle of the night. So we knew that was gone. But as soon as we got here we started working to keep it moving forward knowing that civil unions was the first step.

Jodi Martin: When civil unions eventually passed, the first day was going to be May 1, 2013. There was an opportunity at midnight here at Boulder at our county clerk to get your civil union. We were there at the middle of the night, the last couple of the evening. ... it was about 2:30 in the morning.

Jenny Evans Martin: The office treated it like a party. It was a celebration to them, a privilege to them to give us our civil union, which meant a lot to all the couples who were there.

* * * * *

Kenny Wright: I called Bo on Aug. 24, 1996, and he said we need to make a decision: What do you want to do? Do you want to take me or not, because I'm not in this to play. So, it went from there. And then we just waited and waited and waited for the court's decision from the 10th District.

Kenny Wright: In August 2002, we had a holy union at our church. So we had already declared our love in front of our family and friends and God. We were just waiting on approval from our state.

* * * * *

Ken Hoole: We never talked about marriage too much because, of course, at the beginning it was something that nobody ever dreamed of. ... We had a civil union performed in Vermont 13 years ago. We were wandering in downtown Woodstock, Vermont. We saw this gay flag hanging in front of some business so, just out of curiosity, we went in. It was some candy store or card store. We said, "Do you have to be a resident of Vermont to get a civil union?" And they said, "No, no, no. It's very easy. Just go down the street to the town hall, get your application, and find somebody that is authorized to do it." So we found a woman there who worked in the same building. And she said, "Yeah, come back when I get off work and we will do it." So we did. It was very spur-of-the-moment. We had a second civil union performed when it was finally made legal in Colorado last year.

I don't know that we really talked much about getting married. It just sort of seemed like the logical thing to do. And so we decided to go ahead and do it in Vermont this year because we didn't know when Colorado was ever going to get around to making it legal. We have set the date and we are going to do it in Woodstock with the same justice of the peace who did it 13 years ago.

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Tim Sagen, left, and Ken Hoole.

What was the impact of the most recent court decision?

Jodi Martin: We immediately started talking about setting a date. We went to lunch that day and picked the date and picked a day that was important to us: Oct. 17, 2015. ... After our civil union, I was able to use an adoption process here in Colorado and adopt our daughter, and so the adoption was final on Oct. 17, 2013. So that date is kind of significant for us to bring our family full circle and completed.

Jenny Evans Martin: I’ve been a little carried away. It was such a surprise. I didn’t expect the court to do anything this quickly. So now, suddenly, we can plan our wedding. I actually didn’t expect to get quite so wrapped up in it so quickly. It’s only been less than 48 hours, but it has been fun to start talking about it, thinking about it.

* * * * *

Kenny Wright: I was back on my way from the doctor's appointment, and Bo called me. I didn't answer, because I don't drive and talk. So as soon as I walked in, he hit me with the news. I wouldn't call it bawling, but we had small tears of joy.

We waited on the official word from the state of Oklahoma from our county's DA office. They kept telling us it could be next week, "We don't know." A girl from a Facebook page I'm part of gave me a call. She said, "Kenny how are you?" I said, "I'm fine. What's going on?" She said, "Not a whole lot. Just grab your keys and get down to the courthouse." So we did. We went down to the courthouse and we ended up actually getting our license. We were the third couple to get our license in Oklahoma City on Monday.

Bo Bass: It felt wonderful. I've never been happier. I felt relief.

Kenny Wright: [Starts crying] We had waited for 18 years to be called Mr. and Mr. And we made a special request from the reverend who was officiating. We asked her when she announced us if she would announce us as Mr. and Mr. Wright-Bass. And we were kind of a big deal that night. We were just ready.

* * * * *

Ken Hoole: We found out early Monday what was happening. We were all set to leave home and we got this news. It turned out they were issuing licenses that afternoon in Fort Collins. We decided we would not rush down. We already had made these plans in Vermont, and we didn't want to change them. We've been there eight times in the fall just to enjoy the country, and so we knew we wanted to go anyway. Why should we change anything?

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What does marriage mean for you?

Jenny Evans Martin: You’re not just saying "This is the person I want to spend my life with, this is the person I love." You are also saying this is the person I want to be responsible for and held accountable to. There are benefits in marriage, but there is also responsibility and obligation that you’re putting yourself in. That’s what sets marriage apart from anything else.

Jodi Martin: It really kind of elevates your commitment to one another. It is not just about what we say to each other. It is about what our family and our society and our government and our community as a whole also does to elevate that relationship and that commitment. It is a chance for your relationship to not be just an everyday event. It is more than that.

* * * * *

Kenny Wright: The words we said to each other, they hit a lot deeper with me on Monday night than they did back in 2002.

Bo Bass: It's just like I told my other friends: It's just a piece of paper. I've always loved Kenny, and I always will. I knew he was the one for me.

Kenny Wright: It's a wonder that we have been together for so long. Bo is pro-choice, while I am pro-life. Bo is, or was, for the death penalty, and I was against it. We have both been staunch activists for equal rights for as long as we can remember.

I was raised Catholic. To this day, my parents seem to be okay with us and accepting of Bo. Yet I haven't heard anything from them about our wedding. I'm hurt, but at the same time, it gave me a chance to just let it go and accept it. The rest of our lives are about our relationship with each other and God.

* * * * *

Tim Sagen: In addition to recognition of our relationship by society, inheritance rights and hospital visitation rights, marriage should keep us from being separated if we have to go into assisted living some day.

Ken Hoole: On a personal level, I don't think it will make us different. I don't think it is going to make any difference. Not that much. After 47 years, what's going to change?

Tim Sagen: I think it means more social acceptance, and of course there are myriad number of legal implications that are beneficial. Most of our neighbors already know us very well, so that's probably not going to change that any. But, you know, it is nice to feel like you are no longer looked at as somebody's part of society that's a freak.



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