Couple United in Same-Sex Marriage
Jean Kirsten Johnson
The last rays of a warm spring sun slanted in through the windows, and the cedar rose corsages from Lummi Nation elders that were pinned on the women as they entered, brought the scent of the Pacific Northwest into the airy rooms of the Chameleon Restaurant. Pastor Ramona Soto Rank, of the Klamath tribes, stepped forward to conduct the wedding which ended with the blessing, “I now pronounce you spouses for life.”
Words they never thought they’d hear rang in the ears of Paul Lumley of the Yakama Nation and Phillip Thomas Hillaire of the Lummi Nation on March 3. Partners for 18 years, the pair was among the first Indian men in the nation to marry when Multnomah County in Oregon decided to issue same – sex marriage licenses. A month later on April 17, the couple renewed their vows before family and friends.
The crowd gathered to bear witness to the union brushed away tears and cheered when Lumley and Hillaire stepped off the four Pendleton blankets on which they stood for the ceremony. Dark eyes shining, they put their shoes back on, smoothed the fabric of their well-tailored suits, and stepped into a new chapter of their life together, wedding bands in place. Their first act was to gift those in attendance.
Lumley and Hillaire wrapped witnesses in the Pendleton blankets on which they had stood. The couple also swathed Cliff King, witness to their March 3 wedding, in a fifth blanket. Then they invited their guests to a feast of grilled salmon, mussels on the half shell, shrimp skewers, bruschettas with lox and fresh basil, artisan cheeses, green wands of asparagus, an open bar and entertainment. First hoop dancing to a song celebrating same-sex unions, then fire dancing, and finally an African American DJ in dreadlocks to his waist that got everyone out on the floor.
Lumley and Hillaire have come a long way in their far corner of the nation, where especially in the rural areas where the two came of age, attitudes toward sexual orientation tend toward the antiquated. Lumley remembers frequent beatings by his peers growing up. “The schools on the reservation knew about it too,” he said, “but they did nothing.”
Similarly Hillaire recalled fighting discrimination throughout his youth.
“Once they pushed me down in the mud at school,” he reflected, “and I was afraid to go home with my brand new yellow jacket ruined.” Thus the pair took the protestors and their sexist slurs in stride when along with hundreds, they waited in line to be married on March 3.
“Even getting over there into line took some doing,” said Lumley, “I heard the news on NPR coming back from the gym. I was so stunned I didn’t know how to begin. Then I thought, well the first thing you do when you want to get married, is ask.” Lumley and Hillaire laughed remembering how after Phillip said ‘yes,’ Paul rushed to the Basic Rights of Oregon Web site for help before they took off to join the first of lines that would consume the remainder of the day.
“By the time we got into line at 10:00 it ran clear around the building,”
said Hillaire. “Everyone around us was longterm committed couples. So when the word came down, there was no question but when they’d get married. The whole community was there passing out roses and umbrellas and coffee and pastries. TV stations from all over the world, helicopters overhead, and people in cars waving and cheering. It was just an amazing thing – a beautiful warm event.”
“We are so totally indebted to Basic Rights of Oregon,” said Lumley. “They worked for years to get equal rights for gay people. Their Web site explained the steps, and they had volunteers at the courthouse helping organize the weddings.”
“By the time we actually got inside,” Hillaire said, “our hands were so
cold we could barely fill out forms, much less decide on who should sign which line. We agreed, though, that since Paul asked me, he should sign the groom line.”
“But if you want to see 500 gay people fight,” Lumley added, “just ask them who’s going sign the bride line.”
“Anyway,” Hillaire continued, “eventually, we got one of the manila
envelops that people were waving all over town that day, and our marriage certificate was inside.”
Lumley picked up the account. “They encouraged us to get married right on the courthouse steps like many were doing because no one knew when and if the opposition would get a court ruling to halt the proceedings. But we thought another hour wouldn’t change things and that way we could be married in the quiet of Keller Auditorium where most of the couples were going. We flew around town – stopped at Quintana Galleries for rings, went home and put on suits, and picked up our dear friend Cliff King to witness for us.”
From there, it was only a few heartbeats until Lumley and Hillaire were
joined in holy matrimony.
“We were on the top floor of the concert hall,” remembered Lumley. “The press was all outside. It was quiet up there. Romantic. And even though the day had been rainy, a mystic blue light shone through the windows. It was just us and Cliff. And the minister who said “by the power vested in my by the state of Oregon, I pronounce you spouses for life.” The first thing the new couple did was to get Hillaire on Lumley’s medical insurance policy. Hillaire had worked eight years for the American Indian College Fund until he returned to school for a degree. Even though Lumley had coverage through his job with Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), he had not been able to extend that to Hillaire.
Lumley added, “Last year we got our wills and power of attorney done so that if anything happened to one of us, the other one would be taken care of. It cost us over $1,000 to secure that guarantee, something married
people don’t even have to think about because they get it automatically.” If Lumley and Hillaire sound savvy it’s because they are. Savvy and well-connected. Lumley has worked with CRITFC for 17 years and is respected among the northwest tribes. Hillaire has contacts throughout the nation from his advertising work with the American Indian College Fund, and he’s worked with David Kennedy of Wieden + Kennedy designing Pendleton blankets.
Kennedy was present on April 17 when Hillaire and Lumley renewed their vows. “I’m so grateful that this window opened, and they could pledge their love to each other legally,” said Kennedy. “I love Phillip. He’s been my partner.”
And love is what was in the rooms of the Chameleon that evening. So much love that when people stood to speak on the couple’s behalf, the jokes started almost immediately with the matriarchy carrying the day.
Hillaire’s sister, Penny Carol, said she wanted two horses and two blankets for the dowry. Then Lumley’s sister, Lisa, came back and said she thought her baby brother Paul – who had actually turned out to be her sister – was worth at least four horses.
But it was Paul’s grandmother, the elder of the occasion that had the final word. “Phillip,” said the well-turned out woman with long gray hair swept back into an elegant twist, “When you said you’d take care of Paul, I said
– You’d better!”