"Keisha and I knew that unfortunately because of Amendment One, we would not be able to get married in North Carolina," Dericka Hollifield said. "We knew we would have to travel in order to be legally wed, and that was incredibly important to us."
Just days after they requested a marriage license from McDowell County in Marion, N.C. as part of the WE DO Campaign by the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE), the couple traveled Washington D.C. because it was the closest place where same-sex couples are "equally deserving of marriage licenses," she said in an email.
The entire trip to D.C., though, was almost canceled on the Wednesday before, when Keisha needed to undergo emergency surgery. "I was fully prepared for us to delay the entire trip and marriage; but Keisha was insistent that there was no better time."
The experience of Keisha going into surgery, where hospitals and the other person's family could potentially get in the way of allowing access to unmarried partners, gave Dericka a new understanding of how "unjust and absolutely horrifying" many LGBT couples are treated due to bans on same-sex marriage.
"I am extremely fortunate to have supportive in-laws who would respect and honor my decisions as Keisha's wife — but we did not have health care power of attorneys', living wills, or a marriage license so technically I could have been denied that opportunity," she said. "I have never felt the way I did while she was in surgery. It was the absolute darkest moment of my life. I have never been so afraid, worried, and lost as I was in that moment. All surgeries carry risk, and there was a (extremely slim but still very real) chance that I would never be able to talk to her again."
"We think that marriage is an enormous commitment. It was important to us to publicly declare our promise to uphold that commitment, and to enter into that contract."
It was "mind boggling" that just days after they were denied a license in North Carolina that they could drive eight hours to Washington and suddenly be approved for a marriage license.
"When we began the ceremony I immediately began crying! I did not think I would cry during it, I just typically can keep it together. But it was the most incredibly moving experience I have ever felt," Dericka said.
"I became her wife, and she became mine — a title we have never had used personally, nor with anyone in our pasts," she said. "It was an incredibly huge honor, and I think being a wife is one of the most honorable things I can do with my life."
Now that they're legally married, the couple plans to start a family by having children within the next year.
"Keisha has become my family, and I have always wanted a family," Dericka said. "I have always wanted to become a wife to the woman whom I truly and desperately love, and a mommy to our children. July 26th was the beginning of the rest of our lives, and a dream come true."
The Hollifield's plan to hold a larger wedding ceremony in North Carolina on Sept. 6 — even though they will not be able to be legally married there — "complete with an officiant, the vows, my beautiful white dress, and all of our friends and supportive family members," she said. "I have truly dreamed of my wedding since I was a tiny munchkin, and I refuse to be denied my perfect wedding just because I am a lesbian. And again, Keisha and I feel that part of the reason for a wedding is to publically proclaim your love and vows in front of people who will hold you accountable for it."
Even though most people are able to combine being legally married and have a celebration with friends and family, the Hollifields said they don't plan to sacrifice the dream of having both, even if they have to be separate and require additional expense.
Keisha's surgery may have put a damper on honeymoon plans, but despite the challenge, the couple traveled to Washington, were married, and drove back to North Carolina within 36 hours. They plan on returning to D.C. to celebrate with a mini-honeymoon in the near future and full honeymoon sometime next year.
"I am a full-time second year nursing student, so we decided to delay our honeymoon until next summer and it would be an anniversary, graduation celebration, and babymoon trip rolled into one," Dericka said.