DENVER — As the crowd thinned outside the appeals court Thursday following the arguments over Utah's ban on same-sex couples' marriages, an older couple walked away from the few remaining onlookers to head back to their daily life.
Like so many same-sex couples around the country, Rebecca Brinkman and Margaret Burd are watching the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and other federal courts to find out whether they someday will be able to marry.
The couple, who have been together for more than half of their lives, watched Thursday's arguments about Utah's marriage amendment because the decision could impact their ability to marry — and could lead to a Supreme Court case that could settle the question nationwide.
For now, though, they are waiting.
Unlike most couples around the country, Brinkman and Burd also are plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to order their county clerk — in Adams County, Colorado — to grant them a marriage license. Brinkman and Burd talked with BuzzFeed on Thursday about the appeals court hearing and why they brought their challenge to Colorado's 2006 amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying last October — before any of the spate of rulings in favor of marriage equality that began with Utah in December.
They also talked about having traveled the path of gay rights in Colorado, from working against the 1992 ballot measure — Amendment 2 — that was eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court but had banned the state and local governments from passing measures to protect gay, lesbian, or bisexual people from discrimination to today, when the state's governor backs marriage equality and Brinkman and Burd are working to help make it happen.
BuzzFeed: What was it like hearing three judges talking about your life?
Rebecca Brinkman: Not being an attorney, I'm not being able to hear it for the same way they are and the same technicalities, but, to me what it comes down to, public opinion should not be able to determine my rights. Although I think there are states' rights, I still think this is an issue about the 14th Amendment.
Margaret Burd: Well, I've listened to a lot of court cases in my life, so it wasn't a lot different from what I expected. The interesting part for me was how emotional and — my nerves were all going, too. I don't think that's because we have cases coming up in court; it was just that it's such an important thing to get worked out in this country, and you just really wonder how those judges are going to react. You really get into listening to them, too, listening to people talk about your rights the way the judges were.
It's interesting and made me feel kind of nervous, weird —
BuzzFeed: They're talking about there issues, almost mathematically, and there are same-sex couples sitting in the room.
Burd: Yeah —
Brinkman: I was surprised at the kinds of questions that the judges asked, and I was heartened by the fact that Judge [Carlos] Lucero basically said, "This is kind of like the Dred Scott case all over again," and I really believe that it is. I don't think that this have any grounds to say that it's not.
BuzzFeed: When you brought your case last October, why did you bring it?
Brinkman: Oh, we've been together almost 35 years now, and —
BuzzFeed: Always in Colorado?
Brinkman: No, we grew up in Missouri, met in Missouri, and we've been here for 30 years.
I'd like to say it's just altruistic, and it's about love, but it's also about the practical considerations that, as we get older, there are things about finances that we need to have some security in — like Social Security and the right to file taxes together, and a whole host of other things that apply to married couples that don't apply to us right now.
So, it's even more important as we age.
BuzzFeed: And how old are you, if I can ask?
Brinkman: I'm still 62.
Burd: And I'm 61.
BuzzFeed: Is a birthday coming up, Becky?
Brinkman: No, I just mean, we've been around the block a few times. We worked really hard on Amendment 2, and we can remember what the atmosphere was like here in Colorado during that time, and it's changed so dramatically. It's really heartening.
BuzzFeed: Living through that — from Amendment 2, to it being struck down, to a governor fighting for civil unions and then coming out for marriage equality, what is that like?
Burd: It's just so different than back in those Amendment 2 days, where people on the street would really say nasty things to you when you were out trying to get them to vote the other way — and felt nothing about it. It's probably like being black in the South, it was that bad here. So, we lived through that.
Brinkman: But, I think the main thing that came from that was that to really have a movement, we had to be out and visible. People had to know us, who we were.
BuzzFeed: Were you out at that point?
Brinkman: Well, not to society as a whole.
Burd: I was out at work, you were out at work.
Brinkman: Yes, but. We ran a campaign out of our office … from my office, we ran a telephone campaign about Amendment 2, and we got my hairdresser on the phone. We didn't know that she was going to be someone that we called, and her line was, "All those people should be quarantined. They should not be able to live in Colorado." Now, I was not out to her. If I had, would that have made a difference to how she felt? All of her views were informed by her church at that point.
I'm a chiropractor, so most of my patients know now, and are overwhelmingly supportive. They say, "Oh, I saw your name in the news, and I'm so excited," and — and this is the main thing — "I thought you already had that right." Everybody, all the straight people I know, thought we already had marriage rights … they thought civil unions are the same.
BuzzFeed: For a long time, same-sex couples weren't bringing lawsuits like the one you brought. Now, they're everywhere.
Brinkman: I think it took some really — I mean, people say, "You're really courageous to do this." This is not courageous at all, not compared to Edie Windsor in the case that she had, and all the people that came before us.
Burd: Because, this will have no impact on our jobs, or our lives — other than in a positive way when we get that right. So, we don't have a lot of things at risk by bringing this case —
Brinkman: It's all an upside to us. It is.
But, we had to come to this point in our lives. Would we have filed this suit 30 years ago? Probably not.
Brinkman: Because it would have meant a lot of derogatory things — and a lot of demerits.
BuzzFeed: So, do you think the couples in Thursday's case will win?
Brinkman: I do. … I thought the other attorney [Gene Schaerr, representing Utah officials] really didn't have a leg to stand on, talking about [in relation to parenting] how we might be somehow impinging upon the male, male whatever it is, the male psyche — actually, male privilege.
BuzzFeed: Do you have any kids?
Brinkman: No. You know, if it were 20 years ago and this was going on, I think we would have. But, it was an uphill that we couldn't climb at that point, but I think we would have, now.
Burd: You'd have been a good mom.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
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