GO! Presents 100 Women We Love: Class of 2024

THE CULTURAL ROADMAP FOR CITY GIRLS EVERYWHERE

Nine Years After Marriage Equality, The Union Between WLW Is More Important than Ever 

June 26, 2024

These six women, ranging in age from 27 to 95, get to live their authentic lives with their partners because of that momentous day in June 2015. 

This month marks the ninth anniversary of Obergefell v Hodges. The historic Supreme Court decision ruled that all states must license same-sex marriage and legally recognize previous same-sex marriages that took place out of state. These six women, ranging in age from 27 to 95, get to live their authentic lives with their partners because of that momentous day in June 2015. 

Caroline and Toni Cruse first connected through direct messages on Instagram on May 1, 2019. At the time, Toni was living in Austin and struggling to come to terms with her sexuality, and she knew Caroline was a loud and proud lesbian living near her.

“I just saw how vibrant Caroline looked on social media. I had known her through a mutual friend and knew she was out. And I just wanted a little ounce of that freedom. And so I DMed her to ask if she would want to meet up and talk to me, to help me with guidance.” Toni tells GO Magazine.

The two met up, and after that night, Caroline knew Toni was the one.

“There was a lot of chemistry and connection. It’s really cheesy of me, but when we left, I grabbed our wine cork from the bottle we shared.” She wanted to keep the memory of their meeting with a physical token. “It was like, ‘This girl. She’s it,'” Caroline shares.

Caroline (left) and Toni (right) pose in front of a Houston county court house after getting married (courtesy of @photobychristiana) 

After five years of dating, the couple celebrated their commitment and tied the knot on May 18 of this year at a Houston courthouse. Even though same-sex marriage was federally legalized almost a decade ago, the couple still pinches themselves that they get to be wife and wife.

“I think now, nine years later, it just feels surreal. I never thought I would get to this moment at all and be so proud of my partner. It’s a really cool thing,” Toni tells GO.

Kyla Council, a military service person living in Goldsboro, North Carolina, also never saw herself having the opportunity to marry the person she loves. When her girlfriend, Sereneti Burden, proposed to her in 2020, she had trouble believing they’d go through with it.

“I didn’t really think she was serious because I never thought I would be married because growing up, gay marriage wasn’t legal. It took me a while to be  like, ‘Wow, this is really an option for me.'”

However, once the idea of marriage genuinely sunk in, Council was 100 percent on board. Even after almost three years of marriage, she continues to propose back to Burden almost daily.

“I propose all the time. I asked her today. I was like, ‘You want to get you want to stay married? You want to get married again?’ I always ask her.”

Burden always knew she wanted to get married, regardless of her partner’s sex, so asking Council to be her wife was never a question.

“It sounds so cliche, but it’s true. Love is love, and everybody deserves to have a special someone in their life,” she says.

“Everyone should be able to be in the world and do what they want. You shouldn’t have to hide in the closet. The more people are able to be themselves, the less hurt people would hurt people. Being able to recognize that people are different, that’s very important,” Council echoes her wife’s sentiments

Kyla (left) and Sereneti (right) share a loving embrace on their wedding day (courtesy of Pat Dew)

Today, it may be easy for us to take same-sex marriage for granted. In many parts of the country, we queer folks can wear our Pride gear in public and hold our partner’s hand without a second thought. But older lesbians like Dr. Lillian Faderman and Dr. Phyllis Irwin paved the way in decades past for the younger generations to express our love the way we do.

Faderman, 84, and Irwin, 95, met at California State Fresno in 1971. Both women taught at the university and were tasked with creating the college’s first women’s studies program. The two began their romantic relationship later that year and have been together ever since.

Faderman was one of the first women in the country to have a child through artificial insemination in 1975. However, since same-sex marriage was not yet legal, the couple had to find a loophole for Irwin to have legal rights over their child. The two got creative and Irwin adopted Faderman, making their son Irwin’s legal grandson.

In 1999, Faderman and Irwin entered a domestic partnership in California, and nine years later, the two got married in their home state. When same-sex marriage was federally legalized in 2015, the couple dissolved their adoption arrangement through a lawyer and got married a second time. Soon after, Irwin adopted their son, Avrom. Four decades after his birth, she was finally her son’s legal mother.

Faderman says she and Irwin “have more legal connections than anyone on the planet,” but the two are bound to one another far outside the confines of the law. When The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obergefell v. Hodges, it just confirmed what the pair already knew.

“We were always married. The federal recognition of our relationship was just a matter of justice. It hit us less emotionally because, emotionally, we knew who we were,” Faderman tells GO.

She continues, “It’s outrageous that our relationship, which is certainly to us as sacred and important and committed as any straight relationship, wasn’t recognized as being that by the law. And so for us, it was absolutely crucial that the federal government, and the state government even before, finally recognize who we knew we were.”

The couple uses the term “partner” rather than “wife” because of the heteronormative connotation of the word.

“I’ve never wanted to be married to a man, so I didn’t want to be a wife,” says Irwin.

Regardless of what they call one another, this couple’s love is a testament to equality and the endurance of love in the face of adversity.

“Our love is no different from the love of straight couples. I really believe that love is love, and it’s good that it’s legally recognized,” Faderman says.

Irwin (left) and Faderman (right) sit for a family portrait with their son, Avrom in the late 70 (courtesy of Lillian Faderman) 

As we celebrate the ninth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, we must reflect on our progress while recognizing the remaining challenges. The journey toward full equality continues. So far, in 2024, states have passed 42 anti-trans bills, leaving our gender-expansive siblings feeling isolated and terrified. We must honor all members falling under the queer umbrella by recommitting ourselves to the ongoing fight for justice and inclusion, ensuring that every person, regardless of whom they love or how they identify, can live with dignity and pride.

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