Originally published in The Metropolitan. September 2007. An earlier version of this article contained an error saying Kate Burns’ family did not participate in her and Sheila Schroeder’s commitment ceremony. They did.
Divorce has never been an option for Sheila Schroeder. Her parents have been married for 50 years and her siblings – with their respective spouses – are also in it for the long haul, she said. The kicker for Sheila and her partner for more then five years, Kate Burns, is marriage has never been an option either.
Kate said their story is typical. They met. They fell in love. And they wanted to get married. And in 2003, they did have a commitment ceremony at Kate’s church, the First Unitarian Society of Denver. But while they may be married in the eyes of their church, under the laws in Colorado the lesbian couple couldn’t be more single.
And while Sheila grew up knowing divorce wasn’t an option, Kate grew up knowing she had to stand up when something was wrong.
So the couple sat.
They sat in protest of Colorado’s Amendment 43, that says marriage is a union between only a man and a woman, on Sept. 24 in front of Denver’s Deputy Clerk JoAnn Keys’ desk, where marriage licenses are issued, after they were denied one because they are both female.
“We will no longer accept second-class citizenship,” Sheila said. “Equal treatment under the law means equal treatment under the law.”
Kate said the government is denying her first amendment freedom of religion. “Our church believes in marrying any two people in love,” she said.
The couple wore matching pink armbands to alert the police they were the two to be arrested if it came to that. They also held matching bouquets.
A crowd of about 20 supporters filled in the city clerk’s office, mostly members of the church and SoulForce, a national nonviolent civil rights and social justice organization.
City staff said this was just another day at the office for them.
When Kate and Sheila preformed their commitment ceremony in 2003, Sheila’s Midwestern family came out to celebrate. Kate’s Colorado family did as well. And when Kate saw the love Sheila’s family had for both of them, everything seemed that much better.
“I didn’t know the sacrament of marriage had that much power,” Kate said.
“It’s a different sort of feeling,” said Sheila about love after marriage. “It’s an amazing sort of thing.”
A young lesbian couple introduced themselves to Kate and Sheila. Both 21, Brandy Lowrance and Brandi Schnepf said they have considered moving to Canada to get married.
There, they could file taxes jointly. They wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to adopt one another’s children, or being able to visit each other in a hospital if the worst happens.
“We’re not alone,” Sheila said. “This isn’t just for us.”
And according to the couple, more sit-ins could happen in the future. They said they have friends who are ready to follow them.
Kate said, “We’re going to stand with them.”
Sheila continued, “We hope this is the start of something wonderful, not the end of today.”
Both are convinced gay marriage will be legalized in their lifetime.
“People will look and laugh that this country wouldn’t allow two people to marry because they were the same gender,” Kate said.
I was standing next to the crowd when onlooker Kathy Newman approached me.
“Most people here support this don’t they?” she asked me.
I explained there were only one or two protestors outside, but yes, the crowd that had assembled in the office was here to support the couple.
I asked her if she was there to support the couple.
“Of course,” she said. “I don’t understand why this is an issue. Whose business is it if they want to get married? It doesn’t affect me.”
Kathy’s been married to her current husband for 15 years. I asked her if she had ever thought of gay marriage before it became such a political issue.
She smiled, “Yeah, my daughter is a lesbian,” she told me. “She has a partner and they have a child. They’ve been together about six years.”
When I asked her if she wants her daughter to get married she takes a step back, “It doesn’t matter. They need to do what’s right for them.”
Later Kathy leaned into another reporter, “I don’t know why they (Sheila and Kate) can’t just be a normal couple doing a normal thing.”
To Kathy, it’s simple. They love each other and it is up to neither her nor anyone else to say they shouldn’t be married in the eyes of their god and our government that is based on equal rights.
And no matter what the office staff said this day wasn’t typical. This was a day made for the history books. And no matter what Kathy wishes, these ladies aren’t normal. And they never will be again. The bravery they solemnly and politely exuberated was extraordinary.
When the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. Kate and Sheila continued to sit. They refused to leave until they were given a marriage license. They were arrested, arm-cuffed and led out of the building carrying their bouquets.