Jonipher Kupono Kwong married Chris Nelson shortly after midnight on December 2, 2013– the first day marriage equality became legal in Hawaii.
I have a confession to make: My husband and I lately have taken our anniversaries for granted. We’ve been married 20 years (I think), and when the date comes around we usually look at each other in surprise, then scramble to make dinner reservations.
Jonipher Kupono Kwong and husband Chris Nelson may reach that level of nonchalance someday, but I doubt it. On this, their first anniversary, they feel gratitude and a bit of astonishment. Marriage was something they had to fight for. They were together 16 years before it even became possible, and they’re not likely to take their wedded bliss for granted.
Kwong is the minister at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, and as someone who also officiates marriages, he sees a huge difference between same-sex couples and straight ones. For one thing, “It’s actually quite moving,” he says of the gay couples. “Some of these folks have been together for over 30 years. It’s different from straight couples, who’ve maybe been together for a year.”
He hears their stories of struggle, of coming out to their friends, their families and their workplace — and even to themselves.
“It’s so amazing they’ve overcome all those obstacles and stayed together all those years. It just brings tears to my eyes.”
Tears, because he knows what it’s like for each of these partners to be able finally to publicly profess their love for one another.
He has lived the journey from social and religious pariah invisible and unprotected by his own government, to recognized citizen who has the same rights we straight people have the luxury of taking for granted. Now their commitments are recognized not just by the government, but also by “our families, our churches, the people we surround ourselves with.”
According to the state Department of Health, in the one year since marriage equality became state law, there have been 24,955 marriages in Hawaii. Spokeswoman Janice Okubo says 3,015 were same-sex marriages. Of those, 1,034 were Hawaii residents.
And Hawaii isn’t alone. We’ve seen change continue to sweep across the nation since marriage was made equal to all in Hawaii in December of last year.
“It blows my mind,” Kwong says, “at how quickly things have progressed.”
And he says, part of that is the openness that change encourages:
“When you come out to one person, all your friends suddenly know, all your family. It normalizes it so it’s no big deal.”
He has his own story to tell about that. His husband was nervous about telling his grandparents that he was gay and had married another man. He recruited the help of his long-divorced parents to break the news. So his parents planned a dinner to strategize.
“They talked about us for about five minutes. The rest of the time they rekindled their own old memories.”
The upshot? Kwong and Nelson’s love for each other sparked an old flame in Nelson’s parents. They’re now back together and are thinking of getting remarried soon.
As for Nelson’s grandparents, the news, says Kwong, didn’t faze them at all.
“They gave us a wedding present, just like we were any other couple. They attended the reception we had in California like it’s normal. After all, we’d already been together for 16 years. They could see we have a healthy relationship.”
It is normal. And healthy. And no big deal — except, well, love is always a big deal.
“We are on the right side of history,” Kwong says, “and more importantly, we’re on the right side of this moral issue.
“Love transcends fear.” Amen to that.
And congratulations, Jonipher and Chris, on your first anniversary. May you have many, many, many more.