Leveling the marital ground

tara and dwolfBarbara Lawlor, Peak to Peak.    Last month, on June 9, Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree crushed Colorado’s ban on same sex marriage, becoming another of the 20 federal and state judges to rule in favor of a couple’s right to marry their same-sex partners. The ruling was stayed pending appeal.

Crabtree said there was no good reason  for denying gay couples the freedom to marry, and said marriage discrimination is unconstitutional. He said the victory in the mountains shows that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry whom we choose.

Last Thursday, July 10, Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled that Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall could continue to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Hartman’s ruling defeated  Colorado Attorney General John Suthers’ work to sustain the voter-approved ban on gay marriages. BC Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall has issued 123 licenses to same-sex couples in the past month.

Judge Hartman ruled that the AG’s office did not prove that Hall’s ruling hurt the couples or the state. But the ruling is a tentative action, not totally legally settled, and not all county clerks are following suit.

Gilpin County Clerk Colleen Stewart says, “Gilpin County will not be issuing same sex Marriage Licenses at this time. It is still not law in the State of Colorado. “

Nederland Town Clerk Michele Martin says she will not be performing same sex marriages, but Nederland Municipal Judge David Gloss will preside over a ceremony in which the couple already has a marriage certificate from the county.

Colorado is the 16th state to end the ban on same sex marriages. Although the ruling is tentative and there is much uncertainty and confusion as to the legal actuality of the ban on the bans, gay and lesbian couples throughout the County have been celebrating this new attitude towards the marital freedom they have been fighting for over many years.

snuggling

Boulder County residents in Nederland, Gwynn Wolfstar, known as Wolf, and Tara Gray-Wolfstar, are about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their civil union and they know how much that legal recognition of their relationship can change their lives, even though it has nothing to do with the love commitment they made to each other decades ago

This was made vividly clear on the night that Wolf’s back was broken in a tragic car crash on Magnolia Road.

Before that, the couple had never really suffered same-sex-union legal issues. That’s not to say the road for a lesbian relationship is easy, but love levels the bumps and potholes.

Wolf and Tara met on the phone. Tara was living in Meridian, Mississippi, working as a nurse; her best friend, also a nurse, was Wolf’s oldest sister, Linda. During this time,  after seven years of marriage and four children,  Wolf was discovering her lesbian self.

Tara was sent to Clearwater, Florida, to attend a cardiac conference and ended up in a hospital emergency room with peritonitis. Linda called often, and soon Wolf was asking to talk to her too. The conversations became intense. When it was time for Tara to leave the hospital, Wolf asked if they could continue their conversation.

Wolf says, in a soft Southern accent, “Tara laughed at my sense of humor. She was smart and sounded like someone I wanted to know better.”

Tara said she loved Wolf’s voice and wanted to continue listening to it.

Wolf was married when she was 18 and had four children by the time she was 25 years old. Five years after being married, she realized she was a lesbian; three of her seven siblings were lesbians. She chuckles, saying, “Do you know that men who eat grits every day have a much better chance of becoming homosexual than those who don’t?” She was just beginning to realize the stigmas and strange theories that would be used to describe the world she was moving into.

“I left the home situation to get myself together, to figure out who I was and how I fit in. What model was I looking at? I didn’t want to go to a bar to meet someone of my own variety and I wasn’t in a relationship when I met Tara. Both of us had some sense; we were both nurses and she was easy to talk to. We continued our phone flirting.”

At one point Tara had a friend going through a divorce and she needed help. At the time Tara couldn’t afford it, but the veteran’s association agreed to fly Tara to Tampa, and she and Wolf decided to meet. Wolf was at the airport and the two women hugged, feeling that it was right, comfortable, and they moved on from the phone to driving or flying back and forth. Tara ended up moving to Florida and she and Wolf and Wolf’s children Allison, Justin, Aaron, and Heather were an instant family.

It was time to move and Colorado was their destination.

“It was 1992 and we were living at the Highlander looking for work and a home and found a place in Big Springs, a big house, a good house for kids to hang out.” They moved into Nederland and from the beginning, they never tried to hide the fact that they were a couple. “We didn’t play that game, If someone couldn’t deal with who we were, that was their problem.”

wolf's children

Tara and Wolf raised the children together, worked out who did what. Their children often had friends over to their house and they became involved in the Nederland High School music and theater program. Wolf worked in the emergency department and Tara worked at an alcohol and drug clinic. The money was half what they made in Florida but at least one of them could be home with the kids all the time.

When Heather became involved with the theater, Wolf realized that director Liz Evans needed help building sets, doing the behind-the-curtain stuff ,and the women gave of their time and talent for the next nine years. In their first musical, Lil Abner, they established the rubber chicken tradition which endures to this day.

In 1997, the women ventured into the world of entrepreneurism, opening a tattoo parlor on Pearl Street. The business flourished. One night in 2001, after a customer appreciation party, Wolf and Tara were heading home to their new residence off  Lazy Z Road when Wolf’s truck slid off the dirt road and down a steep embankment. Tara was right behind her to get help.

At Boulder Community Hospital, Wolf learned that her back had been broken and she had lost the feeling in her lower body. She probably was not going to walk again.

“This was a huge, life-changing event,” says Wolf. “Since then I have learned to walk a little with braces, but now our hopes are on having a stem cell operation in Panama.”

The biggest eye-opener, however, was when Doctors refused to operate on Wolf after the accident because she had no one who was next of kin to sign the consent form for the operation. “The doctors were dragging their feet because Tara was not legally related to me. They said she had no legal rights. I was distraught. We had to wait for a few hours before enough people arrived to speak on our behalf to change their minds.”

There was also the question of who takes the kids if Wolf dies. Tara says that these things are taken for granted by straight couples, but can become wrenching legal battles for same-sex couples.

Since then, the children have grown up to lead their own lives and Tara and Wolf own their house and their business together.  They are now expanding to a skin holistic dermatology clinic in Broomfield for people who need tattoos for post-mastectomies, open-heart surgery scars, varicose veins, areola replacement, scar concealment, and breast cancer augmentation. Tara says there are many needs not being met by people who undergo reconstructive breast surgery. “We are here to help people love their bodies again.”

Their lives entwine in every aspect of their living. Last year, they had a civil union ceremony at their home outside of Nederland. Wolf says, “This levels the playing field, gives the rights of a married couple. We just wanted the same benefits and recognition as straight people. We would get married if it meant we could move to another state and be recognized as married. Right now, we would not have marital rights in Mississippi.”

good tara and wolf

The couple believes that if the government sanctions marriage, it should be sanctioned across the board, that everyone should be able to enter into a legal, binding contract.

“We are happy to see the marriage bans fall, to give validation to same-sex couples, to encourage more acceptance. It gives us hope that we will be there, paving the way for more acceptance.”

Last year’s civil union ceremony was a combination of elements: Apache rock bread was served, along with a batch of mead, which was passed in a communion circle. They also celebrated the “Jumping of the Broom,” an ancient tradition associated with a less-than-traditional marriage ceremony. Wolf, wheelchair and all, was lifted over the broomstick by a few burly boys. The children brought gifts from the four directions and the celebration was a happy tribute to two strong women, who have been dedicated to each other and their families since the day they met.

With the move and upgrade to an expanded business and the successf   ul lives of their now-grown children, Wolf and Tara say, “If actual marriage is the only way we can get the same rights and privileges in this country, then that is what we will do. As of right now, the civil union grants us those rights in Colorado, so we don ‘t require anything else. I just wish the government would drop their interference in marriage and allow any consenting adults to name whomever they wish as a domestic partner and receive the same rights and privileges.”


Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.

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