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Beyond marriage: Gay couple sees new measure as acceptance

Kirkland residents Chris McDaniel (right), with his son, Max and his partner, Shaun Kelly (left) and Shaun’s son, Caspian. - CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Kirkland residents Chris McDaniel (right), with his son, Max and his partner, Shaun Kelly (left) and Shaun’s son, Caspian.
— image credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

While thousands of same-sex couples in Washington are planning their lavish wedding days – some as soon as Dec. 9 – Shaun Kelly and his partner are in no hurry.

“I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be very busy in the gay community. I don’t think there’s going to be a free weekend on the gay calendar for at least a year,” said Kelly on the passage of Washington’s Referendum 74. “Everybody is just going to buy bulk amounts of toasters and wedding gifts. It’s something that I really want but I don’t want to think about it too much until it happens.”

In fact, for Kelly and his partner, Chris McDaniel, R-74 goes far beyond weddings and even marriage. It’s about children – and being accepted.

“You don’t go down on bent knees and ask somebody to be in a civil union,” said Kelly, 44, who campaigne d for R-74. “It just makes a big difference in what people are allowed to do and how it makes people feel more accepted in the community. That’s the biggest part of it for me, is just acceptance and the ability to be seen as being a regular person.”

He added that the measure will also allow children of gay couples and gay children themselves to feel accepted.

R-74 asked people to approve or reject a state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed that law in January but it was placed on hold pending the election’s outcome.

Washington state voters approved gay marriage during the general election, joining Maine and Maryland as the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. Six other states — New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont — and the District of Columbia already allowed gay marriage, but those states’ laws were enacted either by lawmakers or court rulings.

Same-sex couples in Washington can apply for marriage licenses as early as Dec. 6 and can use those licenses starting Dec. 9.

Kelly and McDaniel, who live in Kirkland’s North Juanita neighborhood with their two 11-year-old sons, met on an online dating site more than two years ago. McDaniel said when he met Kelly and they discovered that they had sons the same age, it was like “winning the lottery.”

Kelly, who is currently still married to his wife, realized he was gay late in life. He came out in 2009 and met McDaniel about a year later when he was separated from his wife.

“One of the biggest things is I’ve never been hated before,” said Kelly, noting his son took the transition very well. “I’ve always been a pretty well liked person and all of a sudden I’m hated by a huge portion of the country and to some degree the world. That was a real eye opener for me.”

This caused Kelly to put his divorce on hold and get involved with the R-74 campaign, volunteering several hours each week to call mostly undecided voters. The England native also focused on getting his citizenship – which he achieved on Sept. 19 – so that he could vote in this “pivotal election,” he said.

During his campaigning, Kelly says he made several calls to voters who opposed R-74. He said some calls were “nasty,” including one call where someone told him: “I will find your mother and I will slit her throat in her sleep,” Kelly recalled. “But then I did have some people who were against it but weren’t mean. They just have this fixed notion in their head that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin and that sinners should not be allowed to do what they want to do and don’t have equal rights.”

He said that the campaign has also seen support from the religious community.

He and McDaniel felt this support when they pulled their boys out of school in January and went to Olympia when Gregoire signed the initial same-sex marriage bill.

“It was awesome – it was just people supporting each other,” said Kelly. “They were not expecting to get anywhere near as many people as they got there. They’d never seen that much of a turn out for a bill signing before.”

McDaniel, age 42, said when voters approved R-74 two weeks ago, he was amazed and didn’t expect it would happen in his lifetime.

“There’s so many things that I can tell you that have been a continual slap in the face. I didn’t choose this lifestyle,” said McDaniel, who came out when he was 17.

For example, after he bought his first house, he decided to add his former partner to the title and he had to pay an excise tax.

“It was just such a slap to have to pay this extra $2,300 that my neighbor wouldn’t have had to pay,” he said. “These are the kinds of things that people don’t think about. There’s something like 2,000 benefits that automatically come from saying the words ‘I’m married.’”

He said the new measure makes him feel valued.

“This is such a gay reference, but I have to add I feel like Sally Field when she won the Oscar and she was like, ‘you liked me, you guys really, really liked me!’ It was a true validation by my peers, it was so overwhelming – I’m emotional now just thinking about it,” said McDaniel.

Of course, the couple has also thought about their wedding day, which will come – some day.

Kelly says he envisions a small wedding ceremony with a honeymoon, perhaps in Niagara Falls.

“He’s got to propose to me first – I don’t want to do the asking this time,” said Kelly, laughing. “He knows he’s going to have to pull all the stops out.”

McDaniel says there will be a lot of crying, especially from Kelly, and he looks forward to “showing our commitment to one another in front of our friends and family and children and being able to celebrate that.”

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