Karen and Nelda, a couple living in Scottsdale, AZ, met, as many couples do, during their early years of college, 55 years ago. Nelda was a sophomore, Karen was a freshman, and the two women lived just in the same dorm, just down the hall from each other at Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas. They became fast friends.
Though the women relished their newfound friendship, both knew that their connection might mean something more. Karen and Nelda evolved from being best friends to a couple about 6 months after they met. “I came back from spring break and told Nelda I loved her.” Karen gushed, “It was all so new and amazing for me.”
The two finished out their college years together, both active athletes, and continued to live in Texas post graduation. After college, the two women embarked on a life together, starting a business and building a home with one another.
Nelda and Karen went on to be influential business leaders in Texas. Nelda, a physical therapist, started her own business in Texas, bringing Karen to work with her. “Nelda was the first woman to have a successful physical therapy business in the state of Texas!” Karen said, “When we retired, the business had over 100 employees.”
Although Karen and Nelda had a fulfilling life in their home state of Texas, after retirement, they were ready for a new pace. They decided to move to Scottsdale, AZ, in pursuit of a quieter life.
Their quiet life was quickly interrupted by some startling family news. “I got a call informing me that my great, great niece Sharla was in a dangerous home life situation.” Karen explained, “We decided the right thing to do was to go to court and try and obtain custody of her.” Their efforts were successful, and Sharla came to live with Karen and Nelda at age 4. Though under difficult circumstances, Sharla was a welcome addition to the family home.
Six years later, Karen and Nelda found them back in court to obtain custody of Sharla’s three year old sister, Marissa. The now family of four has new worries ahead of them, even though the girls are living safely with Karen and Nelda.
“Now that we have the amazing girls, I have to worry about what will become of them if something happens to me.” Karen said, “Nelda has no legal rights to them, even though we both provide for them and live as a family.” The lack of legal protections afforded to their family are vast, since the freedom to marry is not offered in the state of Arizona.
Nelda and Karen have been together for 55 years, have raised two children together, and ran a business together, but they are not allowed to wed in their state of Arizona. “It is so harmful to our girls.” Nelda said, “Being able to marry in Arizona would legally solidify our rights as a family.”
“We want to help fight for our rights as a family in Arizona.” Karen explained, “We hope one day that Arizona will realize that diversity is a great thing for a state to have and that equality should be available for all of their citizens.”
Until then, Karen, Nelda, Marissa and Sharla will have to carry on with a great sense of uncertainty. Nelda said
“We are a loving family and believe that everyone deserves the right to live their lives in a committed, legal relationship with the person that they love. We don’t want anything special, just equality.”