Nancy Zavala and Janice Mowat want you to know that they’re really ordinary: fun but frequently a little boring.
They’ll probably get married pretty soon, now that the legal limbo of gay couples in Kansas has been removed by Friday’s Supreme Court ruling. But they’re in no rush.
They’re not activists, they say, so it wasn’t really worth it to them to deal with the hassles of getting married in Kansas before it was fully recognized.
“We’re not out pounding the pavement,” Zavala said.
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“We don’t want to be shoving it down anybody’s throat,” Mowat said. “I don’t want other philosophies or feelings shoved down my throat either.”
Zavala and Mowat met at a women’s Final Four basketball game in Kansas City 15 years ago, when Mowat and some friends crashed with Zavala.
A decade passed before their friends tried to introduce them romantically. They’d both been married to men before and weren’t really looking for anything serious. Zavala stayed married a few years after separating so she and her ex could continue receiving the legal benefits. Mowat set out on her own right away.
Zavala, who was living in Kansas City six years ago, almost didn’t come to Wichita for their first date because she felt like she was being set up by her friends.
“Which I was,” Zavala said.
“Which you were,” Mowat said. They do that couple thing where they complete each other’s thoughts and sentences.
“But I came, thank God,” Zavala said.
“And we just kind of hung out for the day,” Mowat said.
“We’ve been dating,” Zavala said.
“And then living together,” Mowat said.
“Ever since,” said Zavala.
They drove three hours back and forth between Wichita and Kansas City for two and a half years, “which just about did us in,” Zavala said.
But they took an eight-day trip together to South Dakota with their bikes and camped along an old train track that had been turned into a trail. They rode during the day and camped at night.
“I don’t think you really know anybody until you spend 24/7 with them,” Mowat said.
“That’s when it hit me that this wasn’t just dating, that I was in love,” Zavala said.
“I have to agree with that too,” Mowat said.
“That was a special week,” Zavala said.
A little more than a year later, fed up with the distance, Zavala told the company that employed her as a contract administrator that she had to move to Wichita to be with Mowat. Her employer told her she could work remotely. She moved to Wichita and they’ve been living together ever since.
Their date nights are pretty simple: maybe dinner and a movie or concert. In the evening they like to have an “adult beverage,” such as wine, on the porch, they said with a laugh. They take their dog for a walk and eat dinner while watching TV. They’ve gone on several cruises together and ride bikes or watch basketball on the weekend.
Zavala threw Mowat a huge surprise 60th birthday/retirement party recently, so for their legal marriage they’ll probably just have some friends and family over and barbecue in the backyard. They’ve been committed to each other so long now, they said, that marriage will be more of a formality than a new chapter in their lives.
But it will make a difference. A few years back, Mowat was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have surgery. Although they had a supportive surgeon, they had to procure a number of documents to prove that Zavala was Mowat’s partner.
“Now you take a married couple, when they go to the emergency room they don’t ask them to produce their marriage certificate, they just automatically assume they are married,” Mowat said.
Mowat and Zavala hold hands when they’re out for a walk in their quiet, west-side neighborhood. They silently cheer on younger gay couples they see around town who show affection in public, even though they’re still afraid to do it themselves.
“The younger generation really doesn’t care” if you’re gay, Zavala said. “It’s like telling them you’re left-handed. They’re like, so? Big deal.”
The couple’s one vaguely political act came when they saw Westboro Baptist Church members protesting a few years ago at Wichita’s City Hall. They couldn’t believe it, so they looped around the building and pulled up in front of the protesters.
“(We) kissed each other right in front of them,” Zavala said, laughing. “That’s as rebel as we get. We smacked right in front of them.”