By Desi Rubio and KJ Philp, Nov. 6, 2014.
After three years together Luisa Valdez and Marisa Hall-Valdez exchanged vows on the staircase of the historic City Hall building in Cesar Chavez Memorial Plaza.
From the significance of the location to the lowrider processional along Washington Street, their Dia de Los Muertos-themed wedding on Oct. 30, 2010, was flawless — the only thing missing was legal recognition.
“We often joke with people and say, “Oh we’re an undocumented marriage,” Luisa, owner of Herbalista and native Arizonan, said. “As an Army veteran, I wanted her to be fully recognized as my wife, not half way or not in a specific state, I wanted it here at home.”
Throughout the couple’s first four years of marriage, they waited patiently as other states gradually approved same-sex marriage across the country and watched as the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“It was such a novelty to get married in another state,” Marisa, an artist and 1998 transplant from Anthony, Texas, added. “I didn’t want to spend money in another economy and just have a piece of paper to bring home like it’s a souvenir. We wanted it recognized in our state.”
On the morning of Oct. 17, 2014, that all changed.
And, as a result, the couple, which proudly describes themselves as Phoenicians, Chicanas, wives, tax-payers, voters, business-owners and involved community members, planned to legally exchange vows once again — this time for legal recognition.
“At first we panicked between wanting to rush to get the marriage license that same day or wait,” Luisa said. “We knew our anniversary was … just around the corner, so waiting wouldn’t kill us.”
On Oct. 30, Luisa and Marisa were married for the second time in a Supreme Court courtroom, officiated by Court of Appeals Judge Peter Swann.
“It’s pretty significant, besides being an appeals court judge, he stopped performing weddings after another divorce he went through,” Marissa said. “Once the ruling came down, he had a change of heart and wanted to perform a same-sex ceremony, but only for the right couple. Luckily, a friend of ours said, ‘I have the perfect couple!’”
Before only two witnesses, a photographer and Judge Swann, the two exchanged vows — which included exerpts from the vows recited as part of their original ceremony.
“This time around, it’s really just about us and our marriage being recognized,” Marisa said. “[Our vows] were just too beautiful and reading through them again just seemed right.”
Instead of a formal reception or a wedding dinner, the newlyweds headed to the Arizona State Fair to celebrate with friends and family.
“We told our friends and family, ‘we’re going to the state fair for a corndog after, join us if you want,’” Marisa said. “We already did the big wedding [and because] when we thought that legal marriage would never happen, we wanted to celebrate.”
Echo caught up with the two-time newlyweds to talk all things marriage
Echo: Are you excited to be newlyweds again?
Luisa: Yes! When we first got married, we didn’t go on a honeymoon, so this time we will and we will have a documented marriage!
Echo: Any specific honeymoon plans?
Marisa: Our honeymoon plans will take place in Washington D.C. We’ll be going for Veterans Day, there’s a huge concert happening that day. Then we’ll be nerds and see every monument that we can, visit the Smithsonian and whatever else we can fit in to three days.
Echo: How did your first marriage impact your life?
Luisa: It felt different, we had our newlywed phase, it was a whole new set of responsibilities, and we were not going to flake out. It became a solid understanding that this is ours.
Marisa: Whether or not it would become legal, that day was our commitment in front of family and friends. We are showing you this moment and you are witnesses to our love to each other.
Echo: What were some of your experiences during those four years that your marriage was “undocumented”?
Luisa: I’m a disabled veteran so when a medical emergency occurred and I was in the hospital, Marisa was not allowed in the room with me. She would just wait for a sympathetic nurse to give her information. Another issue is that I receive disability benefits from the VA and they don’t acknowledge Marisa as a spouse so I lose money. At one point we were considering adoption, and when we realized only one of us would be able to adopt, we decided to just take it off the table. And it isn’t fair to either one of us.
Echo: What is the best part about marriage?
Marisa: I get to wake up and go to sleep next to my best friend every day. It’s really about having a partner in life. We believe in each other.
Luisa: We are definitely best friends. We are together but are both complete individuals, she is a beautiful artist and that is all hers. And I’m an herbalist, and that is mine. Then together we are each other’s number one fans. That is what makes our family so strong; we let each other fly as far and as long as we need to. We are best friends, our support system, cheerleaders, a critic, a second set of eyes, hands, and so marriage just lets us have that for life.
Echo: What are some of the legal protections you’re looking forward to now that your marriage is legal in Arizona?
Luisa: Well, we are both business owners, so there we can get financial protections set up. We plan on buying a home in the next few years and it’s also nice to know that adoption might be an option down the road. It is just a whole new world of opportunities.
Echo: With the new marriage ruling in Arizona, do you think some couples are getting married without taking it seriously?
Marisa: Absolutely, a lot of mass weddings just occurred. We are not going to be any different from straight marriages and how they understood marriage but we did fight so hard for this, so as a community we need to take this very seriously. It is a legally binding document and it isn’t just a piece of paper.
Echo: What advice would you offer to give couples considering marriage?
Marisa: Gain experience and take your time. Go through things together because it isn’t just a honeymoon phase all the time so take the time to truly understand the person you’re with.