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Conard weds 10 same-sex couples Sun.

Diane Divelbess and Grethe Cammermeyer pose for a picture with Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard Sunday moments after being wed at their Langley home. They were one of 10 couples to do so. - Contributed photo
Diane Divelbess and Grethe Cammermeyer pose for a picture with Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard Sunday moments after being wed at their Langley home. They were one of 10 couples to do so.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Ten gay couples became some of the first in Island County to take advantage of Washington’s new same-sex marriage laws Sunday when they tied the knot at a private ceremony in Langley.

Officiated by Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, the weddings were held at the home of one of the nation’s most famous gay couples: Grethe Cammermeyer and Diane Divelbess. They were one of the couples who wed.

Cammermeyer said it was a memorable day to begin with but it was made that much more special thanks to Conard. She prepared for the ceremonies by calling each of the couples in advance to learn a little about them so each service would be a little more personal.

“(She) did such a beautiful job with all them,” Cammermeyer said.

An Uzbeki wedding horn, loaned by Langley resident Fred Lundahl, and drinking glasses with the date and “Married in Washington” blazoned on the side, also helped to make the day memorable.

Amazingly, all of the ceremonies were conducted over a short two-hour period, from 1 to 3 p.m., and were then followed by Cammermeyer’s and Divelbess’ annual Christmas party.

Adherence to a regimented schedule allowed everything to go smoothly and on time, said Cammermeyer, who is a retired colonel with the Washington National Guard.

“It was a military operation,” she joked.

Coupeville residents Jim Sherman and Michael Ferri were one of the couple’s who wed on Sunday.

Their relationship began more than 30 years ago in San Francisco, Calif. Sherman was working for the state and living in a church rectory when he was convinced by a friend to attend a spiritual group for gay men.

There he met Ferri.

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. The two sat next to each other but in a confusing case of mistaken identity, Ferri thought Sherman was involved with a mutual friend and that he had been cheating on him with an anonymous doctor.

Later, when Ferri was asked if he wanted to give Sherman his number, his impression of the man sunk and he thought, “The nerve.” Of course it was all soon cleared up and the two hit it off.

“That’s how it started and we’ve been together ever since,” Ferri said.

Just not legally.

While their relationship has withstood the test of three decades, their commitment became official for the first time Sunday when the two men, along with nine other couples, married in a private ceremony in Langley.

Many of those couples, including Sherman and Ferri, were at the Island County Courthouse Thursday morning as  some the first gay couples to purchase marriage licenses on Whidbey Island.

Referendum 74, which was passed this November and upheld same-sex marriage in Washington, went into effect Thursday.

According to the Seattle Times, more than 200 couples were in line at the Recorder’s Office in King County at midnight to get their marriage licenses.

Although Island County was far less busy, Cammermeyer and Divelbess added to their personal legacy by becoming the county’s first same-sex couple to get a marriage license.

Their story has been made famous by a major motion picture that detailed Cammermeyer’s legal challenge of her involuntary discharge from the Washington National Guard in 1992 for admitting she was a lesbian.

Cammermeyer, who went on to fight for years to end to end the military’s controversial “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, is also a Whidbey General Hospital commissioner. For them, being legally allowed to get a marriage license after a 25-year relationship was no small thing.

“There is a legitimization of our existence that’s difficult to explain,” Cammermeyer said. “If I want to hold Diane’s hand walking down the street, I have the right to do that.”

For other couples at the Auditor’s Office Thursday, getting their marriage licenses was important but also something of a formality. Many said they’ve been married in their hearts, and made their commitments before God, a long time ago.

“I feel like the state’s finally caught up,” said Harry Anderson, a Coupeville resident.

He and his fiance, Terry Bible, have been together since Halloween night, 1975. They moved to Whidbey a few years ago after Anderson retired from a long career in journalism and public relations.

Bible works at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Commissary/Exchange on the Seaplane Base in Oak Harbor.

Being legally married has some real-life applications that have become more important to the couple as they’ve gotten older, such as being able to establish a will and settle other financial matters to ensure their loved one is taken care of.

Many of those things are much more difficult or impossible under a civil union or some other type of partnership classification.

“I think it boils down to equality,” Bible said.

“You want to protect you partner like any married couple would,” Anderson said.

Sherman and Ferri, who are coincidentally neighbors of Anderson and Bible, feel much the same way.

“Personally, we validated our relationship years ago,” Ferri said.

They had an impromptu marriage in 1983 during a gay rights march in Washington D.C. Lacking rings, they traded beaded tribal Zulu pins.

“It was exciting getting married on Constitution Avenue,” Sherman recalled.

Like Anderson and Bible, getting married again will make settling legal affairs a little easier but this is also about making a statement.

While Sherman has been more reserved and private about his life, Ferri spent years fighting on the front lines of gay-rights activism and he said he wants to make sure the message of outspoken critics, such as the late evangelical fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, aren’t passed on to the next generation.

According to Ferri, Falwell once preached that being gay meant you were not or could not contribute to the human family. Well, Ferri said he hope’s his life and now legal marriage will pass on another message, one that speaks of love, connection and equality.

“To hell with you, Jerry,” he said.

 

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