News outlets and wire services simply referred to her as “a woman in a rainbow dress.”
“A woman in a rainbow dress officiated.”
“…the officiant wore a rainbow-colored dress.”
“A woman in a rainbow dress officiated their marriage ceremony…”
That woman is Laura Phillips, an ordained minister and nurse from Fayetteville, Ark., who rushed to the Carroll County Courthouse early Saturday morning to assist some of the first same-sex couples in legally marrying there after an Arkansas judge ruled on Friday that its ban on such marriages is unconstitutional.
“I wanted to make sure that there was someone there to officiate,” Phillips told BuzzFeed. “I’m on the board of directors for the Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality, and I wanted to be there in case anything went wrong.”
Amid the confusion and excitement and emotion flowing out of the county clerk’s office there, Phillips officiated the marriages of eight same-sex couples, including the very first same-sex couple to legally marry in Arkansas, Kristin Seaton and Jennifer Rambo.
When the time came to say “and by the power vested in me by the state of Arkansas,” Phillips didn’t just state it, she yelled it, while the crowd surrounding them cheered and wiped away tears.
“I might have been yelling with my whole heart. I was shaking,” Phillips said of that moment. “I had to pull over on the way home. It was amazing and it’s still kind of sinking in — the magnitude of what happened yesterday.” By the time the clerk closed for the day, 15 same-sex couples received marriage licenses.
But that did not come without incident. At first, the county refused to issue licenses to the same-sex couples waiting in line, Phillips said. Deputy clerk Lana Gordon told advocates and those wishing to marry that she wasn’t sure she had the authority to issue licenses to same-sex couples and turned many, including Seaton and Rambo, away.
“The clerk wouldn’t talk to them at first — just refused,” Phillips said, noting that many of the couples walked away in tears. “She said she hadn’t been given guidance on what to do. At one point, she just shut the window and refused to talk to anybody.”
It wasn’t until Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn arrived at the office around 10 a.m. to intervene that Seaton and Rambo emerged from the office bearing their marriage certificate, Phillips said. Another couple Phillips married has been together for more than 38 years, and one of the woman’s elderly parents happened to be in town for Mother’s Day and was able to witness their daughter tie the knot.
“They sat on either side of her dad on the bench and her mom was standing beside me and called her granddaughter and grandkids and great-grandkids so they could listen to the ceremony,” Phillips said. “I remember the dad saying, ‘My daughter is getting married here today and I never thought I’d live to see it.’”
Phillips, though, said she knew that marriage equality would one day come to her state. “I thought that eventually this will happen, but did I think four years ago that four years later I’d be sitting here having done the first legal same-sex wedding? A hell of a lot has changed in Arkansas, and a hell of a lot has changed in the South,” she said.
To commemorate the day, Phillips went and got a new tattoo at a local tattoo shop Saturday night. It’s a rainbow with clouds on both sides — just above her left elbow, she said.
On Monday, when the rest of the state’s county clerks open their doors, Phillips said it remains unclear which counties will offer licenses to same-sex couples, but that she’s already asked her boss if she could be a few hours late so she could officiate some more.
As for the famous rainbow dress she wore, Phillips said it was about comfort more than anything else.
“I found it at Old Navy a few years ago,” she said. “It’s comfy, it breathes well. It wasn’t a political statement as much as it was comfy and bright and I look really damned good in it. I told people, ‘I’m the blonde, fat, excited lady in the rainbow dress. I’m hard to miss.’”
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