By Miriam Latto

Who would ever think that two Texas girls who met in college in 1957-one one the star softball player and the other the team scorekeeper—would finally be able to marry after being together for 57 years? They certainly didn’t.

But 2014 turned out to be a very important year for the couple. In the 2014 February issue of Compete we ran their love story, and the next month they became the lead defen- dants in a federal lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal in the U.S. District Court for Arizona to challenge Arizo- na’s discriminatory marriage ban.

The women never hid that they were a couple over the years, even to their fam- ilies—they just didn’t talk about it. The catalyst for Karen and Nelda to go public and join in the marriage equality movement was really prompted by their girls. Retired and in their 50s, Karen’s great grand niece Sharla, now 22, came to live with them at age four. Six years later they were given custody of Sharla’s half-sister Marissa.  Now 16, Marissa was only three when she came to live with them.

Karen was the only one with legal rights to raise them. If anything had happened to her, Nelda would have no legal rights even though
she had helped to raise both girls.

“It is so harmful to our girls.” Nelda said, “Being able to marry in Arizona would legally solidify our rights as a family.”

When marriage became legal in Arizona on October 17th, Karen and Nelda were among the first to get their marriage license. And on November 23, 2014 the happy couple invited everyone in the Phoenix area to attend their wedding … really everyone.

When asked what our wedding day would be link,” said Karen, “one of things we both agreed on without a doubt was having our community there.  We have been overwhelmed by the love and sup- port from all of those that cared about us, the case and the fight for marriage equality. We can’t thank you all enough and sincerely would be so honored to have you be a part of our wedding day.”

With that settled, a number of Phoenix-area wedding vendors were lined up to turn Karen and Nelda’s imagined wedding into a reality, some of them even donating services for such an historic event. And so it was that Karen and Nelda’s wed- ding took place on stage at the mag- nificent historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix with their pas- tor, the Reverend David Felten of The Fountains United Methodist Church officiating.

The girls were part of the wedding party for their moms. Marissa gave the Bible reading and Sharla read the beautiful and heartfelt letter she had sent to the judge the year before, the one making the decision on whether or not same-sex marriage would be legal in Arizona. It was a very special moment!

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.54.22 AMThe ceremony was tender and deeply emotional but it also had a lighthearted tough. Rev. Felten had the attendees participate in the service but affirming their love and support for the couple.  He also read a David Letterman-inspired Top 10 List of things that Karen and Nelda have learned about each other over the years. And when he arrived at the point where he normally tells a couple he’s marry-ing what to expect when building a life together, he said he was skipping that part since they’ve already had 50-plus years to figure it out.

Following the ceremony there was a cake and punch reception for all the attendees, and later in the day a pri- vate reception was held at The Farm at South Mountain, a local farm converted into a charming event venue. With lots of smiles, laughter and happy tears, it was declared a grand day by all who were there.

“Magic” was the word most often used by people to describe the day. The owner of The Farm asked for permission to plant a tree in Karen and Nelda’s honor where everyone could see it, a request that simply blew them away. And in a wonderful sign of love and support, the Methodist bishop for this area (Rev. Felten’s “boss”) not only attended both the day’s events, he and his wife danced at the reception in celebration of these two very special women and their very special wedding.

The times are finally starting to change. As was noted in last year’s article on Karen and Nelda, “They are no longer on a softball team. Instead, they’re on a new team today that sup- ports equality for all … team human race.”

Please join all of us at Compete in wishing Karen and Nelda a lifetime of continued love and happiness!


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