Kenny Wright and Bo Bass remember every detail of the blessing ceremony held in 1996 at their church.
The Oklahoma City gay couple said they wore black tuxedos with purple accessories for the August ceremony at Church of the Open Arms, 3131 N Pennsylvania Ave. They said they stood under an archway decorated for the occasion.
Bass said the ceremony was beautiful, but they still long for the day when they can legally wed in Oklahoma.
“We called it a ‘holy union,’ but for me, I don’t think we ever saw the day when we would be able to put together a regular wedding,” Wright said.
Wright and Bass are among the gay Oklahomans who are waiting to wed.
“It’s a big thing for me just to have the legal rights that everyone else has,” Bass said. “We’re not illegal aliens or anything — we were born in this country. I feel like everyone should have equal rights.”
A Tulsa pastor said many gay couples like Wright and Bass are more optimistic than ever after a federal judge in Tulsa in January struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
The ruling is now being considered by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Rev. Tamara Lebak, the first openly gay minister to serve at All Souls Unitarian Church, said she performed a “Blessing of Engagements” in February at her Tulsa church. The event was a statewide engagement party for same-sex couples who want to get married in Oklahoma.
Lebak said the church wanted to show the couples that some faith communities do not condemn them or those they love.
“We believe it is important to show that there is religious support for same-gender couples,” she said. “There is a narrative in our state that no religious Oklahoman supports gay marriage. This narrative is simply not true.”
Lebak said the atmosphere at the engagement party was “infectious,” with more than 400 people from 25 religious institutions attending to support the couples.
“With that large turnout from supporters, clergy and couples, everyone was optimistic that the tides are turning,” she said.
Lebak said she, too, once waited for the right to legally marry her partner of 18 years, but opted to travel to another state where gays may legally wed.
Wright, 42, gets teary-eyed when he thinks about the words “family” and “marriage.”
He said it took many years for him and his family to talk candidly about his sexual orientation and his 17-year committed relationship with Bass, 48.
Both men once worked full-time but are now on disability due to work-related injuries.
Wright said at times, particularly when he was a teen, he was afraid to tell his Roman Catholic mother that he was attracted to other men, and he felt she would never accept him for who he is. He said she told him pointedly when he was 18 that the Church did not condone same-sex relationships.
Wright said over time his mother and other family members came to accept that he is gay, and their relationships are strong — undergirded by familial love that doesn’t discriminate.
Now, he said he would like to see Oklahoma evolve regarding gay marriage.
Bass said much the same thing.
“We talked about going to other states to do it, but if it’s not legal here, it wouldn’t be beneficial,” he said.
Both men said Judge Terence Kern’s ruling in January set off a wave of excitement in their house — after the disbelief had faded.
“I thought Oklahoma and Texas would be the last states to do it. I knew it was happening in the United States, but I didn’t see it happening here,” Wright said, shaking his head from side to side.
For now, the couple said they will continue to wait for the day they can walk down the aisle of Church of the Open Arms and legally marry.
“I’m ready for the day when everybody looks back on this and says ‘it’s just marriage,’ and we put the fight to the side,” Bass said.
“I’m tired of fighting about it.”
See a video related to this story at NewsOK.com.