Marriage equality becomes reality for five couples at Heronswood

Greg Nolan gets a congratulatory hug after he and Bill Trombley, background, were married Dec. 9 at Heronswood Gardens. At right is Sharon Purser, who officiated. - Richard Walker
Greg Nolan gets a congratulatory hug after he and Bill Trombley, background, were married Dec. 9 at Heronswood Gardens. At right is Sharon Purser, who officiated.
— image credit: Richard Walker

KINGSTON – Makeup artist Sarah Jones of Bainbridge offered her services as a sign of solidarity with the couples marrying this day.

She’s white and her husband is African-American, and it wasn’t lon

g ago that marriages like hers were not legal; it was only in 1967 that a U.S. Supreme Court decision ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage.

So on Sunday, as gender-based legal restrictions on marriage were lifted in Washington state and the first same-gender couples married, Jones felt compelled to be there, offering free makeup services to the spouses-to-be and members of their wedding parties.

“I read an article [about the weddings at Heronswood] and I was moved to support it,” she said. “At one time, interracial marriage wasn’t even legal. It’s normal now. Someday, this will be just as normal too.”

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe hosted five same-gender marriages at its Heronswood Gardens Sunday, the first day that couples could marry under state law. The law, Referendum 74, was approved by voters Nov. 6 and took effect Dec. 6.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Council had endorsed Referendum 74 and opened Heronswood for weddings without charge, as a gift.

“We’ve really been looking forward to this,” said Jamie Aikman, a Port Gamble S’Klallam council member. “The Tribe is open and supportive. Everybody should have a right to be married, to have insurance, to be able to take care of each other and speak for each other.”

Couples married in the former home of Heronswood founder Dan Hinkley and his partner, Robert Jones, then paused in the gardens for photographs. There were five weddings between noon and 2:30 p.m.

For some couples, the elation of the day was tempered by the fact that same-gender couples still don’t enjoy the full benefits of marriage extended to others.

Rhonda Boothe and Jessica Salmonson, the third couple to marry Sunday at Heronswood, pointed out that, while their marriage is legal in Washington state, neither of them can receive the other’s Social Security benefits if one of them should die. Unlike straight couples, they will pay inheritance tax on their spouse’s half of the estate.

Boothe is an administrative assistant at Olympic College. Salmonson is an author and editor. They live in Bremerton and have been together since 1998.

They estimate there are at least 300 benefits straight married couples receive that same-gender married couples don’t. Boothe is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act in its upcoming review.

The 1996 Act defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and interstate recognition purposes in the United States. Under the Act, no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. Section 3 of the Act codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors' benefits, and the filing of joint tax returns.

Still, to say this day was significant would be an understatement. “This is a recognition by the public and the state of Washington that we’re as good as other couples,” Boothe said.

Noting that the Tribe supported Referendum 74 and opened Heronswood to same-gender marriages, Salmonson said, “The Tribe rocks.”

For Greg Nolan and Bill Trombley of Vashon Island, the first couple to marry at Heronswood Sunday, this day was a day they had talked about for 10 years; they’ve been together for 15. They had friends who had gone to other states to marry, but “we wanted to be married in Washington, in our adopted state,” Nolan said.

Having the wedding at Heronswood had special meaning for Trombley. He’s a grants management specialist in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Native American Programs (Nolan is an antique appraiser).

“I’ve been working for 10 years with Native Americans in Indian country, so this means a lot to me,” Trombley said. “It means a lot to me that the Tribe is supportive and is giving this gift in love.”

Sharon Purser, executive assistant in the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s administration offices, became ordained in the Universal Life Church so she could officiate at Trombley and Nolan’s wedding; they are friends of her sister’s. After the vows were recited, they retired to a room to sign marriage certificates.

Purser gave the couple a copy of their vows and an embossed copy of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s logo.

“I feel like I’m a part of history, that mankind has evolved to this point,” Purser said. “I’m so proud of the Tribe taking the stance they did and offering this up.”

The weddings were also a first test of Heronswood as a wedding venue. The Tribe bought the famed gardens at auction in June from Burpee Seed Co. and is assessing all of Heronswood’s possibilities. Heronswood will be available as a wedding venue in spring, and the gardens are being restored to their Hinkley-era level of care. The Tribe is considering opening Heronswood for horticultural and native plant education, and retreats. The Tribe may incorporate Native art into the landscape and add a sensory garden for children.

Dawn Purser, economic planner for the Port Gamble Development Authority, said weddings will create additional opportunities for local cake decorators, florists, and photographers.

That was evident Sunday. Although their services were complimentary, Sunday was a showcase of local culinary and floral talent. Companies represented included Sweet Life Cakery of Kingston, which provided the buffet in a pre-wedding reception room; and Nancy’s Green Garden of Kingston and Diamond Custom Floral of Bainbridge, which provided flowers.

Mary Hanna, an assistant in the development authority office, coordinated the transformation of the former Hinkley-Jones home into a wedding venue. Consider all the details that go into planning a wedding; Hanna and her team of four had to plan for five, including two held simultaneously in different parts of the house.

“It was short notice, but everyone working on it did a good job,” she said.

The Rev. Diana Cash of Suquamish officiated at the marriage of Boothe and Salmonson.

“Marriage symbolizes the ultimate intimacy between two people,” Cash said. “Therefore, it is not to be entered into lightly, but with certainty, with mutual respect, and with a sense of reverence which can include beauty, humor and joy.”

She quoted the poet Rilke, that “a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of her solitude … loving the expanse between them which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as whole and before an immense sky.”

Then, each spouse promised to tenderly care for the other, to respect her individuality, to cherish her as she is, and to love her with fidelity.


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