After 20 Years, ‘We Never Stopped Being Married’
As part of the celebration of their wedding ceremony on June 2, 2021, and as a symbol of the ups and downs of the 20-year relationship that preceded it, Jillynn Garcia and Darla Sims Garcia made two Manhattan cocktails.
Officially, it was the first legal marriage for both. Yet Ms. Garcia, 48, a mental health therapist in Portland, Ore. and Ms. Sims Garcia, 55, a librarian there, both spoke in the same matter-of-fact tone when stating that they had previously been married — to each other.
“As far as we’re concerned,” Ms. Sims Garcia said, “we never stopped being married.”
The two women met in 2000 as they shared a lane at a Los Angeles bowling alley at the birthday party of a mutual friend. They instantly connected and soon fell in love.
In 2003, they moved to Portland, and in June became engaged while out to dinner. Ms. Garcia proposed to Ms. Sims Garcia by hiding a custom-made necklace inside a painting she had created that was hanging on the wall of the restaurant.
In February 2004, the couple visited San Francisco for Ms. Garcia’s work and found that the mayor, Gavin Newsom, was allowing the city to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples. They decided on the spot to elope. Their official wedding date was stamped Feb. 26, 2004.
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Six months later, on Aug. 12, 2004, the California Supreme Court invalidated marriage licenses issued by San Francisco to same-sex couples in February and March 2004.
“It was an odd reawakening,” said Ms. Garcia, who specializes in art therapy for the Northwest Regional Educational Service District in Oregon.
Ms. Sims Garcia was equally confused by the court ruling. “When we learned the law had been reversed, we just sort of looked at each other as if to say, ‘So we’re really not married anymore,’” she said.
For both, all that had changed was a law, not their feelings for each other.
“When you’re a queer couple and your state or government doesn’t acknowledge your relationship, it’s beyond frustrating, and you sort of take on this Rocky Balboa fighter’s mentality,” Ms. Garcia said.
Soon after, Portland started to permit same-sex marriage in March 2004, but the couple decided against applying for a marriage license.
“Gay marriage was still not legal in Oregon on a federal level,” Ms. Sims Garcia said. “So we were kind of gun shy about going through the process again, even though we were living in Oregon.”
Eventually, Oregon decided to halt all same-sex weddings until it was determined who could and who could not marry each other. In November 2004, Oregon voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution that made it state policy to recognize only marriages between one man and one woman.
Though the couple felt they had made the right decision, not being legally married in the eyes of Oregon law, or in any other state, brought some ramifications, most of them expensive.
For Ms. Garcia, that change in status meant that the money her employer was contributing to an insurance plan that kept Ms. Sims Garcia covered financially, had now become imputed income, which meant every penny of it was taxable by the federal government.
“These taxes have added up to tens of thousands of dollars the last 16 years,” Ms. Garcia said.
The most troubling aspect of being labeled only domestic partners, the couple said, arrived 12 years ago when their son Nico was born.
In 2009, the woman once known as Darla Moyer-Sims changed her name legally to Darla Sims Garcia.
“As a gay couple, it’s hard to leave the state or country with a child that doesn’t have your last name, so I changed it,” said Ms. Sims Garcia, who also has a 29-year-old daughter, Kira Annika Moyer-Sims, from a previous relationship.
“From there, things got insane,” said Ms. Garcia, her voice starting to crack. “We had to spend a lot of money on hiring attorneys, and drawing up papers so that we could legally adopt our own son. Can you imagine that?”
They moved on with their lives, and in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in all 50 states, the couple began entertaining thoughts of another wedding, though they took their time thinking about it.
“I think at first we thought it wasn’t going to stick, especially when Trump became president in 2016, and then the coronavirus,” Ms. Garcia said. “But both our families really wanted to see it happen this time around, so we made it happen.”
It happened on the 20-year anniversary of the day the two brides “first hooked up,” as they put it.
In addition to the 60 in-person guests, their second wedding could also be seen by about 30 family members and friends watching live via Zoom. This brought the total number of guests to 90, including Ms. Garcia’s parents, Carol Garcia and Andrew Garcia of Long Beach, Calif., as well as Ms. Sims Garcia’s father, Ronald Sims, and her stepmother, Jan Sims, who live in Sahuarita, Ariz. (Ms. Sims Garcia’s mother, Teri Clark, is deceased).
Midway through their ceremony, the couple and their officiant, Julie Cantonwine, a mutual friend who became a Universal Life minister for the event, demonstrated how each ingredient in a Manhattan cocktail, their favorite drink, represented some area of the life they have cultivated over two decades.
“Bourbon is the foundation of the Manhattan cocktail, and so it symbolizes the strong foundation of our relationship,” Ms. Garcia said.
“The sweet Vermouth stands for all of the romantic, wonderful times that we have had together,” she said. “And the bitters reminds us of all those difficult times, all of the challenges we faced along the way.”
“Then comes the Amarena cherries on top,” she added, “which reflect the sweetness, goodness and kindness that have stood above anything else since we first met.”
“It is a delicious reminder of the great life we have had together, legal or not.”
On This Day
When June 2, 2021
Where Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Portland, Ore.
Comings and Goings The couple entered their ceremony on June 2 to the song “Top of the World” by the Carpenters, and departed to “Heroes” by David Bowie.
Ring Bearers Only The couple’s two children, Kira, 29, and Nico, 12, served as ring bearers. There were no other wedding party members.
Odds and Evens Each of the two brides wanted to go first with the reading of their vows, so when they reached an impasse, they resolved it with a rock-paper-scissors challenge. Ms. Garcia won.
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