Current Affairs

US: Lesbian couple hopes engagement will inspire equal marriage activism

Mel Spencer July 16, 2012
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A couple from Connecticut are sharing the story of their engagement online in the hope it might inspire others and help change civil marriage laws in the US and beyond.

Ashley Norris set up the surprise proposal at a lighthouse in Connecticut by pretending she was taking Rachel Arbit out to celebrate the end of her third year of teaching.

“I was like ‘let’s celebrate your last day of school’, and I bought her flowers, so she thought we were going to this place to celebrate being done with school,” Ashley told “She completely was not expecting what we did!”

As it stands, the couple are able to marry legally in Connecticut, but their marriage will only be recognised on a state level. They plan to move to Wisconsin or Illinois, states which have different legal recognition for same-sex couples – Illinois recognises same-sex unions as ‘domestic partnerships’, and Wisconsin recognises ‘civil unions’, but neither state recognise same-sex civil marriage.

Same sex marriages are legal in six states in the US: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. Massachusetts was the first state to grant same sex marriage licences in 2004.

A couple married legally at state level in the US are not married under federal law. Even if a couple is ‘married’, they must declare themselves as ‘single’ when completing business on a national level, such as filing taxes.

US: Lesbian couple hopes engagement will inspire equal marriage activism
(Photo: Paparazzi Proposals)

New fiancée Rachel said: “It’s insulting to have to define your relationship every time you cross a state border. Here we’re married, here we’re single, here we’re ‘domestic partners’, here we’re in a ‘civil union’ – it’s absurd to me!

“Love shouldn’t be voted on from state to state – it’s a human rights issue.”

The couple hope that sharing their photos will inspire other couples, gay or straight, to reconsider marriage equality.

“It would be brilliant if we could be a part of something that would bring so much happiness and equality to so many different people in the world,” said Rachel. “I don’t know if two people sharing their story has the power to do that, but I hope so.”

“It’s not only about gay marriage, it’s about making differences work – a lot of different couples, not just gay couples, will be able to relate to us and know where we’re coming from.

“We shouldn’t have to ask someone’s permission who we don’t even know, who doesn’t understand us or relationship – we legally should be able to do what we feel is right for us and do what we want to do to represent our love.”

The couple are keen to put a human face behind the issue to involve people visually in the campaign for equal marriage.

Ashley said: “I think the Out4Marriage campaign in the UK is a really good idea. The more human face you can give to the issue, the more people will be able to understand the impact that this will have on so many people out there. It’s a good idea to get so many people involved in visual support of marriage equality.”

US: Lesbian couple hopes engagement will inspire equal marriage activism
(Photo: Paparazzi Proposals)

Ashley and Rachel enlisted the help of US photography company, Paparazzi Proposals who captured the special moment on camera. The company have snapped more than 100 couples since June 2011, but this is the first time they have photographed a same-sex couple.

Director of Paparazzi Proposals, James Ambler, understands the importance of using images to help further the campaign for equal marriage.

He said: “Being able to get the story out there and have a set of pictures that convey the love and emotion to this story is great! We really hope that with this proposal we can encourage other young same-sex couples to make a point of making their engagement a big statement, to generate more awareness about how marriage has to be made legal in all states and across the world.”

As more states change the law to legalise same-sex marriage, James is getting more enquiries from gay and lesbian couples asking him to photograph their engagement.

“We just love to capture the moment between two people in love taking that amazing step together, regardless of gender,” said James.

“I really hope that in America at least we are just a few steps away from having a united same-sex marriage policy. Having spent time with Ashley and Rachel, it’s really sad that in this day and age, the issues surrounding same-sex marriage can still be so complicated.”

Click here to view Ashley and Rachel’s proposal at a Connecticut lighthouse.

More: Americas, Connecticut, equal marriage, gay marriage, lesbian, marriage, marriage equality, US

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