Same-sex marriage and Kentucky: Three couples' stories

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2014 

There has been a lot of talk lately about politics and policy and who can be married and where.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings that paved the way for same-sex marriages to be more widely legally recognized. In February, a federal judge in Louisville said that same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal must be recognized in Kentucky; last week, the judge agreed to stay his ruling "until further order" while the governor appeals the decision.

All the while, it appears that an increasing number of same-sex couples in Central Kentucky have quietly chosen to get married out of state. Here are the stories of three of them.

Newlyweds after 20 years together

On their first date, they shared homemade soup beans and corn bread, and then sat on the couch and held hands.

"I was on the left, like I am now," says Jane Bogardus, leaning into Karen Carey, still holding hands more than 20 years later.

Their love is seasoned, but their marriage is new.

After decades together Carey, 73, and Bogardus, 69, Googled "eco gay-friendly B&B" — there are more of them you'd think, Bogardus says — and went to Maine to be married.

The women will celebrate the anniversary of their wedding in September.

They wrote their own vows, an exercise in remembering why you really love someone that both found valuable, and they cried their way through most of the ceremony. The celebration that followed featured shortbread and champagne. Back home in Lexington, they celebrated again with 60 or so friends and family.

They'd unofficially "married" years ago, in front of the IRS building in Washington, D.C., during a mass ceremony that was part of a protest. There is a single snapshot from that day; they wore matching lapel pins in support of same-sex marriage.

For decades after their first date, they'd built a life together.

Carey was a college professor and administrator at Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky. Bogardus was a teacher.

Questions of marital status were neither avoided nor encouraged. Carey had a picture of Bogardus on her desk at work, and when colleagues asked what she'd done on the weekend, she would talk about her travels with Bogardus.

But there was no big announcement to make it official.

"You are not completely like everybody else," Bogardus says.

"You just get used to living that way," Carey says.

There was some longing, over the years, to make their union legally recognized. Instead, the two took all the legal steps necessary to function fully as a couple.

Sometimes, not often, they bristled at the complications of doing simple things that other couples did with ease.

Bogardus remembers having to spend hundreds of dollars to transfer the ownership of a car. Carey recalls spending thousands of dollars to achieve the same rights that for opposite-sex couples come with the stroke of a pen.

Still, they didn't want to get married if wasn't a real, legally recognized marriage.

"I always said, 'Not until it really means something.' What good is it if it isn't legal?" Bogardus says.

But when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer in Windsor v. United States, striking down part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, it was time to go to Maine. They put the trip together on the fly.

They found a spot in the woods not far from the eco gay-friendly B&B and became legally wed.

They already had the rings.

The women stop, in sync, at the word wife. They can't quite use it. There is a split-second silence, and then they come upon the reason for their hesitancy.

"It's diminutive," they say.

For now, the newlyweds are trying out spouse.

An accidental to-do

Doug Smith long ago locked away the idea of having a wedding and instead concentrated on building a life.

When he first met Glenn Blind, it was a meet-cute that could have gone either way.

Smith had noticed the dark-eyed stranger when he went into a Cincinnati nightspot. "I just remember looking at him, and he caught my eye," Smith says.

But when Blind offered to buy him a drink, Smith declined. "No," he said, "I have my own money."

That could have been the end of the story — but the two Lexington men began to chat. That led to plans to meet again. There was a dinner date in Lexington. There were more dates, a gradual courtship that turned into something serious.

It was middle-distance dating for while. Blind, 43, stayed in Cincinnati, working as a flight attendant. Smith, 45, was in Lexington.

But, as often happens when people spend time together, their things started to merge. Eventually, they moved in together and even started a business.

A big part of their work at Doug Smith Designs floral company is helping couples plan beautiful weddings. But the two didn't talk of what their big day might be like, even though, at some point, Blind proposed.

"I didn't take him seriously," Smith says. "I knew it wasn't legal."

When the Supreme Court ruled last summer, Blind brought up the subject again.

It wasn't, they agree, that they felt the need to cement their relationship nearly a decade after they met.

"I had already switched in my head that we were a committed couple," Smith says.

"I had the same views. We were a couple, we'd built a house together, we got a dog together, we have joint insurance," Blind says.

Still, Blind wanted that official sanction. So again, they began to talk of marriage. This time, Blind got his way, in part by promising to take care of everything.

"The last thing I wanted was any sort of to-do at all," Smith says.

Blind smiles at the thought of the planning, arranging for a minister in New York, searching for a spot for the ceremony, buying rings as a surprise. It was a sunny winter day in Manhattan's Central Park when the two, wearing jeans and bow ties and holding hands, said their I-do's with just a few friends.

There were a few unexpected pre-wedding jitters.

"I was nervous the morning of," Blind says. "A lot of grooms drink a lot prior to the wedding. I kind of understand it now."

The announcement of their marriage was very 21st-century: a status change on Facebook.

When word got out, Smith got the kind of to-do he'd hoped to avoid. Friends sent cards and congratulations. Acquaintances came up at trade shows to gush their good wishes.

They had taken care of all the legal things required of same-sex couples long before the wedding, so day-to-day hasn't changed much. They say it matters to them that they can say they are married just like the other couples on their street.

Blind already is planning for their anniversary, in December. Mid-sentence, he looks at his husband, who clearly hasn't fully signed on.

It's something they'll work out together.

Finding love long distance

Lujza Hayes Nehrebeczky and Joy Hayes — old hands at marriage now, three years in — have watched as a flurry of their friends and acquaintances travel out of state to wed.

They are past the stage of getting used to the verbiage of that comes with official coupledom and are settling into a different life.

Nehrebeczky, 36, and Hayes, 37, met online 11 years ago, when Nehrebeczky was moving from Hungary to Kentucky for college and wanted to make some real-world connections in advance.

They seem, on paper, an unusual pair. Hayes is from rural Kentucky, where the rule in the house was not to travel past the big stump out in the yard. Nehrebeczky hails from urban Budapest and had a bus pass by the time she was in second grade.

In the pre-Skype world, they corresponded the new old-fashioned way, chatting on the Web and exchanging handwritten notes and printed pictures through the mail.

The first time they met was at the airport. Nehrebeczky was coming off a 30-hour trip, and Hayes saw her coming down the escalator. Nehrebeczky jumped into Hayes' arms.

"It was a whole dramatic movie type of thing," Nehrebeczky says.

They knew, early on, that they had something special and made the kind of commitment people do in their hearts when in love.

Their inability to make their union legally binding was harder on them than most, because Nehrebeczky stayed in the United States on a student visa.

To not risk deportation, she had to continually be a full-time student. There were restrictions on how much she could work.

"We spent an incredible amount of money," says Hayes, an office administrator. Nehrebeczky did, and still does, freelance work as a translator.

There was an emotional toll, too. Nehrebeczky felt the strain of her fragile immigration status and the loss of not being able to return home to see family, especially her mother. If she left the country, she says, she wasn't sure she would be able to come back .

"We felt hopeless," Nehrebeczky says. They resigned themselves to the fact that "this is the best we can have right now."

"We had to put our lives on hold," Hayes says.

Following the advice of an attorney, they chose to get married in Connecticut in 2011.

"When he said, 'Go ahead if you want to,' we were kind of giddy," Nehrebeczky says.

The wedding was "a DIY kind of thing," although they did order their Grecian-inspired dresses ahead of time. Nehrebeczky's 86-year-old great-aunt traveled from New Haven for the festivities. She threw them a party at her house and invited some of her friends.

"All these gay guys showed up and brought food. ... It was crowd-sourced," Hayes says.

They continue to celebrate the milestones of married couples, and they're getting ready to buy a house.

But last year's Supreme Court decision did change their lives. Nehrebeczky has submitted her application for a green card to gain permanent resident status because of her marriage.

This year, they hope to travel to Hungary.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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