For gay couples in D.C., political reality meets real life

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It took eight years to travel from a poetry night at the Black Cat to the point when Tina Hodges and Rebecca Phares began dressing up their home-office walls with stickers of little cartoon caterpillars wearing red and black berets. Now, there are two big steps to come.

They plan to walk into D.C Superior Court on Wednesday to apply for a marriage license in the city where they were born, joining the first group of gay and lesbian couples to exercise that legal right as the nation's capital puts its civic and symbolic weight behind same-sex marriage. And on July 4, they are expecting a baby boy.

These are days of great political significance and history following years of debate and public struggle, but they are also simply two more days of love for two women who keep staring at each other and smiling as they remember what brought them here. As couples consider this first chance in the District to get licenses and, after a three-day waiting period, get married, many are trying to figure out how official recognition might fit with their years or decades of personal commitment.

Many are focused on the ritual and ceremony, or rushing relatives into town, or the legal fine print. Some are thinking about how to make it in and out of the courthouse with dignity but without drawing klieg lights to their careers. Others are balking, pulled between the pride they might feel and frustration with their employers in the federal government who, by law, would continue to withhold crucial federal health and retirement benefits to their partners even after they were legally married.

Or, as is the case of Northeast residents Hodges and Phares, they are thinking about their family and future and how much fun the next few days will be.

As with many Washington love stories, theirs began at a biweekly coalition meeting of a nonprofit working group. The meeting was about Mexico. Tina was 22. She had just come out three years before and was in her first job. Rebecca was 4 1/2 years older and "was presenting at the meeting, and so smart," said Tina, who now works in the policy office of the Federal Transit Administration.

"It didn't even occur to me that she might be gay until I ran into her at a women's spoken word event at the Black Cat. . . . And I was like, 'Oh, my God. That beautiful woman that I work with is gay!' "

Tina was giddy -- "googly-eyed," she says -- and nervous, but went over anyway. She didn't really know what to say, and it didn't really matter.

"I could tell from the way she looked at me," Rebecca recalled, "that . . . "

"I'm pretty transparent," Tina said.

" . . . that she was interested."

'The right person'

Tina was 20 minutes late to their first real date. She had been training for a sprint triathlon. She drank a couple of bottles of Gatorade, grabbed a shower, threw on some shorts and made her way to Eastern Market. Her opening line: "Hi, I have to run to the bathroom."

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