Lara and Kristy are the kind of couple who finish each other's sentences. They complement each other in a variety of ways—which makes things like owning a home, a business, and working shifts together at their coffee shop easy. Lara is more of a people person, and has a better memory. Kristy is better at saving money, killing bugs, and changing light bulbs (Lara has a fear of heights). Simply put, they're the kind of couple who love each other, are "in it for the long haul," and want to be married, but can't because they're lesbians.
Lara Miller and Kristy Rastle, owners of the Blend Coffee House and Café on East Burnside, agreed to talk—over coffee, of course—about love, business, politics, and how it felt to get married in March 2004, and then have their marriage license taken away.
Where They Met
"She hit on me at the E-Room," four years ago, Kristy says with a big smile. Kristy was a DJ there for five years and had been blowing Lara off for months.
Then, "we became friends over the course of seven months," Lara chimes in. "Kristy was really shy."
They dated for a little over a year before taking a big step: "We moved in together and bought the coffee shop all in the same month," Kristy says. "We decided that if we were going to move in together, we were basically saying to each other we were going to be together... it was just wham, bam, jump in with both feet."
Both women owned their own homes so it was a decision that didn't come instantly. "I had [also] lived with a lot of partners," Lara begins. "I was just so tired of separating the Christmas tree ornaments, and the CDs, that I just wasn't going to do it again. Owning my own home meant that no matter what, I got to stay... I think when we moved in together, it was the same intention as marriage—although we didn't have that option."
And then they did.
Where They Wed
On March 3, 2004, Multnomah County commissioners announced that the county would not discriminate based on sexual orientation for marriage licenses. Suddenly, gays could marry legally.
On their way to the coffee shop, Lara and Kristy heard that the county had begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses. "We have to go and do something," they recall saying to each other. They called in back-up staff to cover their shifts at the shop, and headed to the county building to hand out coffee to the people standing in line. Kristy was en route with a second haul of drinks, when she called her sister in London.
"You should just do it," Kristy's sister told her. So Kristy, when she returned to the county building with free coffee in tow, popped the question: "Do you want to get in line?" she asked Lara. Lara agreed. And that was that—they got their license to marry.
In honor of the day they first met, the pair returned to the E-Room to share drinks with friends, and write out their marriage vows on cocktail napkins.
The next morning—dressed casually in white-collared shirts—Kristy and Lara arrived at the Keller Auditorium early, hoping to avoid the long lines, for their wedding ceremony. Their friends skipped school and work to bring them bouquets and act as wedding photographers. Lara and Kristy picked out an officiate.
"What was his religious affiliation?" Lara asks, turning to Kristy, sitting across from her at the coffeeshop table. "People of the Ancient Ways," Kristy answers with a slight giggle.
Lara laughs. "I think he had a pentagram on, and a little pouch with some crystals around his neck," she recalls. He was perfect: They wanted someone who would match their non-religious beliefs. Born-again Christians raised Kristy, and Lara was raised without organized religion, but with the value of "treating people as you'd want to be treated," she says.
Several weeks later, they hosted a $3,000 reception at Bernie's Southern Bistro. They had a band, champagne toasts, wedding cake, tons of friends and family, and registered for gifts. "The whole shebang," Kristy says now. "It was a damn good party."
Where That Left Them
After getting married, they say they felt a sense of security, protection, and respect that they never had previously to tying the knot.
"I think one of the biggest things getting married did for us—other than all the legal rights it gives you—is it gave our families a sense of permanency," Lara says.
"Yeah, it changed my parents," Kristy says.
"It totally changed the way her folks treated us as a couple," Lara adds. "They didn't have the same amount of respect for our relationship before we got married. Once people know that your intentions are to be there for the long haul, and you're actually putting that down on paper, it is a big deal."
Then, roughly a year after the two signed on the marriage-equality dotted line, said their vows, and threw a party, their marriage license became obsolete. In April 2005, the Oregon State Supreme Court nullified all licenses that Multnomah County had issued to same-sex couples.
"We cried," Lara says flatly. "They sent us a letter and our check for $60."
"We couldn't cash the check for a while, we just couldn't." Kristy says. They're both silent for a few moments. "Then we did, and donated the money. Yeah, it just sucked."
Where They Are Now
The double standards of discrimination returned, regardless of their countinued love and commitment. Even after going to an attorney, paying all the fees, and filing paperwork to say that Lara is Kristy's next of kin, marriage or not, Lara's decisions regarding Kristy's health in time of an emergency can still be contested.
On an everyday level, not having the same rights as heterosexual couples "ensures that we're second-class citizens. We have to pay like we're first-class citizens. We will always have to file our taxes as single, and singles pay more," Lara adds. Kristy chimes in: "We have to pay more for car insurance, because I'm not a spouse. It just sucks!"
On a larger level, the roller coaster of the past few years has put gay rights "two steps back," Kristy says.
"I mean, you can still drive around Portland and see 'Yes on 36' stickers," Lara says. "It makes me really angry, but I have to just remember these people are afraid and ignorant. Gay marriage doesn't change anything for straight marriage."
"But that's how it always goes," Kristy adds. "You have to fight for awhile, and it kind of sets you back. But I think if we just stick to it, it'll happen, but it'll just take time."
"So, do you still say you're married?" I ask.
"Yes, we still say we're married. I still introduce Kristy as my wife," Lara says.
"Me too," Kristy says.