It was a simple kiss between two married women, candidly captured by a photographer on a cold winter morning. Yet within months, it had spread like wildfire. Featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, MSNBC and the Huffington Post, this photograph quickly became a symbol of love and the fight for marriage equality. Who were these women and what was their story?
Marj Plumb and Tracy Weitz were married on August 20, 2008 in Quincy, California. After several years of being married, the couple decided to move to Omaha, Nebraska when Tracy got a job offer she couldn’t refuse. However, this move came at a price: once the couple became residents of Nebraska, they were no longer legally married.
“The first thing we did when we moved to Nebraska was buy a house and we were required to list ourselves as single women on the title of the house,” explains Marj, “and that is incorrect. We shouldn’t have had to lose our marital status just because we moved.”
The couple contacted the ACLU of Nebraska about their situation and learned that the organization was working on a lawsuit about that very issue. Along with six other same-sex couples, Marj and Tracy became plaintiffs in the case of Waters v. Ricketts in December 2014.
This opportunity was especially exciting for Marj because of her long history with policy advocacy as the director of our Women’s Policy Institute. The case was her first foray into using public interest law as a way to enact change and Marj believed that it had the potential to change not only her own life, but also the way that society as a whole views LGBT people.
“Public opinion shifts policy and policy shifts public opinion,” says Marj. “Laws can help change people’s opinions, so people will think, ‘If the government says that gay and lesbian people can get married, I guess it’s okay for two women to get married!’ Legislation that protects us as a minority helps signify that we are a legitimate population.”
The first hearing for the case was held on February 19 in the federal court in Omaha. The plaintiffs faced strong opposition from many elected officials in Nebraska’s conservative government, but Marj did not allow this to discourage her.
“To hear some of the things they were saying, like, ‘Marriage is just for procreation,’ or ‘Gay people shouldn’t have children and shouldn’t be allowed to get married,’ was difficult. Hearing that from your own government employees was really painful, but it convinced me to continue to work in public policy.”
This hearing was where the iconic photo was taken, right after the two women had completed a television interview about the lawsuit.
“When the reporter was finished and she turned her camera off we looked at each other and just kissed,” Marj recalls. “We were so relieved, so appreciative of each other and so thrilled we could still move our lips (it was cold!) In that exact moment, an AP photographer took our picture.”
Although the plaintiffs in Waters v. Ricketts had a long journey ahead of them, the kiss became a symbol of the love that motivated them on their fight for marriage equality.
Friday, June 26, 2015 was a historic day for all Americans. In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must allow same-sex couples to marry and must recognize these marriages.
This decision was a monumental victory and Marj and Tracy could not have been happier. Much to their surprise, the two women saw the photo of their kiss on the Huffington Post homepage and the article about the Supreme Court’s decision even though they were not involved with the national case.
“I was a little nervous that some people misunderstood the photo and thought we were part of the national case, but I hoped people could see it as two unnamed lesbians kissing. I think it speaks to the fact that it was a success for the entire movement. I have no idea what it is about that photo that was meaningful to people but I’m happy that it was. I’m happy that it speaks to love and recognition.”
Although marriage equality is finally a reality nationwide, the fight for LGBT rights is far from over.
“Now you can get married, but if your boss sees that you got married and figures out that you’re gay, you can still get fired. We still have issues around adoption and making sure both partners have legal rights. There are a lot of immigration issues. So many trans people and trans people of color are being brutalized through the immigration process,” Marj explains.
“Nobody thinks, ‘Oh we’re married now; we can go home.’ We got that recognition and now we need to keep working on the other issues.”
Even though there is still so much work to be done, the passage of marriage equality is undoubtedly a cause for celebration. There are 1,138 rights and benefits granted to married couples by the federal government, including the right to joint adoption, the right to visit one’s spouse in prison or the hospital, U.S. residency for immigrant spouses of an American citizen and health care coverage for families. The conference of these benefits relieves a significant financial and emotional burden for same-sex couples. Thanks to activists like Marj and many others, we are one step closer to achieving equality.