A Very Long Engagement

Dec 4, 2012

Kate Schubert and Liz Newman have waited 15 years to get married in Washington state.
Kate Schubert and Liz Newman have waited 15 years to get married in Washington state.
Credit Liz Jones / KUOW

What’s the opposite of a shotgun wedding? Try a 15-year engagement.  Seattle couple Kate Schubert and Liz Newman joke they’ve waited that long for the right to get married in their home state.  The wait is almost over. On December 6, same-sex marriage will be legal in Washington.  Now, Kate and Liz are eager to take the next step.

They tease each other about the engagement but the truth is their commitment to each other was settled long ago. "I think we’ve always considered it the equivalent to marriage," Schubert says. Newman agrees.

The reality seems to be setting in for Schubert and Newman - this is all really happening.

The couple started living together 15 years ago, two years after they met. They raised two children at their home in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. As we talk in their living room, the women settle in on the couch. Their hands instinctively reach for each other.

Their “official” engagement started this past February. Kate and Liz were in Olympia to see Governor Gregoire sign the gay marriage law passed by the Legislature.

"When she finished signing, I did the one knee, will you marry me proposal at that moment," Schubert says. Newman says it was the easiest answer she'd ever given in her life.

However, they knew the engagement would drag on a bit longer as gay marriage opponents soon challenged the state law with Referendum 74. That meant Kate and Liz would need permission from Washington voters to get married.

Gay marriage laws had never survived a statewide vote. That is, until last month. Washington made history with a 'yes' vote, along with Maine and Maryland. “It’s a big step and it's an historic step," Schubert says. "By getting married we’re going to be showing our support for that and saying ‘Yes, this really does matter. It really is important.'"

She says now that they have this opportunity, they're going to take it.  The church is booked for April.

Struggle For Acceptance

Schubert and Newman raised two children together from Schubert's previous marriage. Their son, Doug, and daughter, Kooper, are in their 20s. They moved out of their childhood home in Wallingford years ago but still come by often. Doug and Kooper currently live in Seattle.

On this afternoon, Kooper came to drop off her cat for a few days and Doug gave her a ride. As they chat in the kitchen, Doug and Kooper fire off questions to their parents about the upcoming wedding, such as 'what will everyone wear?' The ribbing ensues.

"I think I want to be a vision in white — off-white," Newman says. "Far off-white," Schubert teases. Doug asks his mom if she plans to wear a tux. Newman raises an eyebrow and says the wedding attire is "in committee right now."

Questions come up about wedding rings, a honeymoon and if the kids will give the moms away.  Nothing is decided yet. The reality seems to be setting in for Schubert and Newman — this is all really happening.

Doug and Kooper both plan to stand up with them at the ceremony. They’re proud to do it. Yet they admit, growing up, it was sometimes tough to “come out” about their gay parents. They both say it was difficult for them to talk about their family life at school. "For years, I would introduce Liz as a family friend," Doug says.

Kooper points out they were in middle school when her mom and Newman got together. "We just had no concept of whether or not it was OK or if other kids would be OK with it, so we just kept it a secret.”

Then, a pivotal moment came when the kids were in high school. Doug wrote a poem about his moms’ relationship. He was asked to read it at the all-school assembly. He went for it.

“It was incredibly well-received," Doug says. "It was a huge weight off my back. I had people coming up to me in the halls congratulating me.” Then, he realized one small problem: Doug and Kooper went to the same school. They’d kept this family secret for years. Doug forgot to clue-in his sister about this big reveal.

“I was mortified," Kooper says.  Doug tells her he still feels guilty, after all these years. Kooper leans toward him on the couch, bumping his shoulder.  "Don't," she says. "You did me a favor.”

Kooper and Doug have heard critics say gay marriage is bad for children and that they need a mother and a father. In this case, they do have a mother and father, plus two step-moms. They see that as benefit of their non-traditional family. They say any hardship they’ve felt came from outside their home.

"That was the hard part growing up — feeling like our family wasn’t accepted by other people," says Kooper. "So hopefully with gay marriage passing in more and more states across the country, less children will have to feel that way.”

To Schubert and Newman, the idea that gay marriage harms is an insult. They proudly point out Doug recently finished six years active duty in the Navy. Kooper made the dean’s list at college.

Next Comes Marriage

As they hug goodbye, the kids tease each other about silly Christmas ornaments on the tree. They  all make plans for dinner next week.

When the house is quiet again, the conversation turns back to the wedding.  Some couples might get cold feet before they walk down the aisle, but Schubert and Newman can't imagine that happening.

"We’ve  shared a life together for 15 years and during that time we’ve buried four parents," Newman says. "We almost buried one of our children. We’ve raised two children. We've gotten through things that have historically separated many couples."

They don’t expect married life to bring major changes. However, they can’t wait to finally stand with their friends and family and say “I do” and “We’re married” and “This is my wife.”