Fayette County

Lexington couple reflect on a year of marriage equality

Robert Wardlow, left, and Michael Todd after they received their marriage license in the Fayette County Clerk’s office on June 26, 2015. They were married the next day at the Lexington Pride Festival.
Robert Wardlow, left, and Michael Todd after they received their marriage license in the Fayette County Clerk’s office on June 26, 2015. They were married the next day at the Lexington Pride Festival. cbertram@herald-leader.com

One year ago, Michael Todd was getting ready for a doctor’s appointment when his phone was flooded with messages from relatives.

The U.S. Supreme Court had just announced its decision on marriage equality, allowing same-sex couples across the country to be legally married.

Todd quickly tried to tell his longtime partner, Rob Wardlow, what had just happened.

“I just started crying and I called him to tell him, but he couldn’t understand what I was saying,” Todd said.

The two men called the Fayette County circuit clerk’s office, canceled the doctor’s appointment and were the second couple in line to get their marriage license. They were married the next day at the Lexington Pride Festival, surrounded by their friends. They now share their last names: Wardlow-Todd.

A year later, near the anniversary of what they describe as a wonderful moment in their lives, the couple said their married life has been just as wonderful.

It’s been a good year,” Rob said. “I was able to get him on my health insurance as my spouse, so it feels vindicating that we can have the same opportunities as other people.”

The couple had had a commitment ceremony, with their families present, in 2008 before they were legally married, and they had been calling each other husband long before the Supreme Court decision. Rob said that their decision to have an impromptu wedding was a symbol of their love but also meant something more.

“It wasn’t just for us but for every person in our community that never got the chance but dreamed of one day getting married,” Rob said. “We finally had the right to be treated as normal people under the law.”

Michael said he has seen most of his 14 brothers and sisters get married over the years, but as young as age 5, he thought that because he was different, he wouldn’t have the same opportunity. Now, sitting next to his husband, he said his marriage means he’ll never have to feel like an outsider again.

In reviewing the past year, the couple often end up talking about what feels normal. After describing times when they were made outsiders, as when Rob once was stopped from seeing Michael in the emergency room, they talk more cheerfully about the constants in their lives rather than the changes.

Their relationship has changed legally, but having a license hasn’t changed the bond the couple share.

“To me, the relationship doesn’t feel different because we’ve been together for almost 10 years, but to finally not feel like we aren’t second class anymore is a big deal,” Michael said.

Family Court Judge Kathy Stein, who married the first female same-sex couple in Fayette County, Natalia Truszczynski and K.T. White, said she hadn’t noticed a lot of drastic changes herself since the historic ruling. In fact, she said, she is seeing a lot more normalcy for same-sex couples.

“The world didn’t end like a lot of people thought,” Stein said. “Just lots of people forming happy families.”

Stein said that among same-sex couples, she is seeing stepmothers and stepfathers going through the same process that heterosexual parents go through to adopt their stepchildren. She also sees divorce and custody cases.

As a former member of the Kentucky General Assembly and an advocate for the LGBT community, Stein said she is happy to see couples finally being recognized after state-level efforts were repeatedly grounded.

“When the Supreme Court finally answered the issue once and for all, it felt like a holiday,” Stein said. “People who had felt from the start that same-sex couples deserved equality were finally validated.”

That sense of validation seems to be the biggest change for same-sex couples. Michael and Rob Wardlow-Todd have lived in Lexington for several years and said that having the ability to be themselves in a place they love has made a big difference.

“This is where I choose to be, and I’m glad I get to be here with him,” Michael said. “I feel validated as a couple that we get to be recognized in our home state. That seems more important than a piece of paper.”

Their marriage license holds the signature of Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, a distinction that future couples won’t have. Although they don’t define their marriage by a legal document, the statewide change to marriage licenses to exclude the names of county clerks does bother them.

“I feel that it is an insult to any couple getting married, straight or same-sex couple,” Michael said. “When they were sworn in to office, they put their hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the constitution. They didn’t swear on the constitution to uphold the Bible.”

After a year of marriage and almost 10 years together, the couple are still discovering aspects of their relationship, but Rob said that’s the way it should be.

Their advice for people in love thinking about getting married:

“It’s so worth it,” Rob said. “You have to fight for what you want, and you have to work to make your relationship better. Having that piece of paper, you can’t just decide to walk away when things get hard.”