I met Kelli, Karen and their 3-year-old triplets in 2011 when I photographed them for a portrait series about same-sex couples just before Amendment One banned same-sex marriage in North Carolina. We've kept in touch ever since, and I photographed their wedding on the 20th anniversary of their relationship.
Tell me about the ceremony.
Kelli: Well, March 12 was a very significant day, and we always said if we ever got married—if we were ever allowed to get married—that it would be on March 12, and so we just went for it. It was very important that our kids were there. We wanted just close personal friends. It's mainly about our family.
Karen: I wanted to do it on March 12 all along. It's our anniversary. And I really didn't want to have to remember two dates anyway.
Why did you get married?
Karen: I think one of the big reasons is the kids are older, and now they understand about families, and they look around and see their friends whose parents are married. I wanted them to feel that same stability in our family. Even if they don't talk about it all the time, they're very intuitive and they notice ... that Mama and Mommy are parents, but they aren't married.
Kelli: It was also very important because even though they were younger, they understood that for the longest time that we couldn't get married, that it wasn't allowed. So now that the laws have changed, it was very important to us to take that next step and show the kids, "You know what? Our family is no different."
Is it what you expected it to be?
Kelli: (Laughs) It's actually no different, I just have a ring on my finger.
Karen: She calls me "Wifey" now.
Karen: There were some procedural things at work, so now how I am paid is different. I'll have to look at how my taxes are withheld in preparation for next year.
Kelli: I haven't had to fill out any paperwork yet and check "Miss" or "Ms." or "Mrs."... so I am waiting to go to the doctor's office, or fill out an application.
- Photo by Justin Cook
Do you have a wedding registry?
Kelli: No. We haven't done that yet.
Kelli: Well, we would do that before our reception [later this year].
Karen: Oh. I wasn't expecting gifts.
Kelli: (Rolls her eyes). Whatever! (pounds the table) It's all about the cake and the presents!
When you reflect on 2012 and Amendment One, what should we take away from the passage and the eventual overturning of the amendment?
Karen: It was sad that we had to go through it. I'm very disappointed that it passed in general. All the manly straight people out there, you know, their attitudes have shifted some to where it's like "Whatever."
Kelli: In 2012, I felt that the tide had already started to turn, and it was becoming more accepted. and then having the amendment pass, it was such a blow. It was like, "Are you kidding me? Really? We are going to be treated this way? I am going to be denied a human right?"
I never thought [marriage] should be religious-based. Everybody should be able to say "I love this person, I want to spend the rest of my life with this person, whoever it is." But I mean, to see all of a sudden, all these states [overturned their amendments banning same-sex marriage], just one by one, it was kind of like the light bulb turned on and people were like "You know what this really is stupid. We can't deny this human right to people."
- Photo by Justin Cook
When the triplets first understood Amendment One, how did they react?
Karen: I think Emma's first reaction was "Well that's not fair. That's not right."
Kelli: Emma takes things a lot more seriously than the boys. The boys are kind of blasé about it. When we went through the whole Chick-fil-A thing, you know, I told them "We're not going to eat at Chick-fil-A we aren't going to support them, because they don't support our family, and Evan was kind of like "Where can I get a chicken nugget?"
Karen: Evan's response was "I can't wait to be a daddy so I can eat at Chick-fil-A again."
Kelli: But Emma very serious about it, she was just like "We're not going there, they don't like our family." And when she found out about the amendment ... she was very, very bothered by it. She would just randomly make comments ... we were in the middle of baths or something, and she'd say "I think it's really bad that you and Mama can't get married." Just out of the blue.
Screams erupt from upstairs. Emma has accidentally slammed Evan's pinky in a door.
Karen: (To Kelli) You want me to go up there?
Kelli goes upstairs. Evan's crying gets louder.
Karen: That doesn't sound good. He has different cries and that was definitely a "hurt" cry.
So, Mommy and Mama got married. What do you guys think?
Evan: We know.
Grady: I think it's awesome!
Your moms were telling me that when it was against the law, you were upset about it.
Emma: Yeah I was very upset about it. Because it was just not right. I just think it's weird. Other moms and dads can get married. I don't know why it was against the law.
Grady, is anything different now that they are married?
Grady: Nope! The one thing that's different is they are wearing those rings all day. Day and night.
- Photo by Justin Cook
- Emma hugs her mother, Kelli, in 2012.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Our family is no different"