Lisa and Natalie Tos-Brightup met at a Pine Valley Christian Church social in 2006. Lisa was impressed with Natalie’s quick wit during word puzzles.
“She kept grabbing my pieces and using them to complete the puzzle much faster than I was completing it by myself,” Lisa said.
Natalie had recently pulled herself away from a marriage and was living in a new place with her two boys. She told Lisa that she didn’t have enough chairs for them to sit and eat dinner together.
So Lisa bought some folding chairs and took them over. Natalie didn’t realize they were a gift and thought Lisa was just being nice and loaning her the chairs. It was raining outside and, as they sat together in Natalie’s new, emptier house, Lisa took Natalie’s hand for the first time, looked at her and asked, “Do you think there could be something here?”
Lisa had grown up in the church, but she had never experienced a faith community that accepted her. A parishioner at her old church gave Lisa some scripture that said she was gay because she failed to thank God enough.
“But in real life that was ridiculous,” Lisa said. “My dad was a pastor. I was raised in the church. I was there two or three times a week. If I failed to thank God enough, then how come 90 percent of the world wasn’t gay too?”
The support at Pine Valley was like nothing she’d known. “When I first came here, I just sat and cried and cried for the first couple of weeks because I really felt like people weren’t looking to say anything negative about me and in fact they celebrated me.”
In 2010, it didn’t look like Kansas would legalize gay marriage anytime soon. So Lisa and Natalie decided that they would hold a “ceremony of family.” It would be their way of affirming the commitment of their four-year relationship.
They wanted all of their family and friends to be there and let it be known that they expected them there. That made for a bit of a tense ceremony, they said, because it was clear that some people didn’t want to be there and didn’t support their union.
They planned their real wedding for April 11, 2015, after same-sex marriage was legalized in Sedgwick County in November. This time they let their friends and family know that they wanted them to come, but they didn’t have to. They picked out shirts and wore blue jeans, and everyone packed into a Quaker meeting house and sang folk songs, one of their favorite weekly activities. April 11 was the anniversary of the day Natalie left her husband and, she said, stopped pretending to be something she wasn’t.
Some of the same friends who came begrudgingly five years before had had a change of heart, they said, and now celebrated their union wholeheartedly.
“It was an unconditional love that filled the room, and not a single person there questioned it,” Natalie said.
For Natalie, it was important that the ceremony be in a church, even though some Christian denominations don’t accept gay marriage. “A stool with one leg broken doesn’t stand up,” she said. “To be a whole person you have to have a healthy spiritual life, a healthy emotional life and a healthy physical life. You have to have the whole triangle.”
They changed the surnames on their Social Security cards. But when they showed up at the DMV, the clerk wouldn’t give them new drivers licenses because gay marriages weren’t recognized statewide.
A crowd gathered in Old Town Square on Friday to celebrate the new rights of gay couples. Lisa said she felt elated. Tears streamed down her cheeks as the celebration ended with a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
“Love wins,” Natalie told her.
They held each other for a long moment, looking into the distance, and then kissed.