June grooms: Langley couple ties the knot in California

After more than 35 years together, longtime Langley residents Ron Childers and Richard Proctor were married last week in Indio, Calif. The couple will honeymoon on South Whidbey. - Photo courtesy of Proctor/Childers
After more than 35 years together, longtime Langley residents Ron Childers and Richard Proctor were married last week in Indio, Calif. The couple will honeymoon on South Whidbey.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Proctor/Childers

Thirty-five years, 10 months and seven days after a Langley couple vowed to spend their lives together, they tied the knot last week. Officially.

Ron Childers and Richard Proctor were married in a quiet civil, two-ring ceremony at the Riverside County Court House in Indio, Calif. on June 20.

“We started to think it might not happen in our lifetime,” Proctor said.

The couple joined a growing stream of couples heading to the Golden State in the wake of the California Supreme Court decision last month that struck down the ban on same-sex marriages.

They met socially through mutual friends in the 1970s and shared a love for art. Later, Childers became Proctor’s student at the University of Washington School of Art where he was teaching.

“We were both otherwise coupled,” Proctor recalled. “Later, when we were both otherwise uncoupled, we became a couple.”

“We decided to spend our lives together when we were in Vancouver. It was Aug. 13, 1972.”

And so they remained committed, but unmarried, for nearly 36 years.

Even though their relationship has lasted longer than most marriages in the country, making their union “official” remained an unanswered desire.

And the question whether same-sex marriages would ever be socially accepted and legal remained unanswered, as well even after some states began to perform civil ceremonies.

The couple, now in their 70s, had plenty of reasons to be uncertain.

They had planned a wedding before. In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a directive to the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, claiming that the California Constitution’s equal protection clause gave him authority to do so.

Proctor and Childers decided to join the large number of same-sex couples that flocked to San Francisco to get married.

“We had reservations for the ceremony, airplane tickets, rings engraved. Just a few days before, the California Supreme Court pulled the plug,” Proctor recalled.

But more than 4,000 same-sex couples were issued licenses in San Francisco from Feb. 12 until March 11, 2004, when the weddings were halted by the court.

Despite the setback the couple went to San Francisco anyway. The long-awaited wedding weekend had turned into just another getaway.

“It was a nice weekend, a bitter-sweet weekend,” Proctor said. “It was so frustrating.”

In a May 15 ruling, however, the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, adding the court would invalidate virtually any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

The law is already under attack, though. A California initiative to halt same sex marriage is on the ballot Nov. 4.

But for now, the 4-3 ruling says that the state Constitution protects a fundamental “right to marry” that extends equally to same-sex couples.

The ruling surprised legal experts because the court has a conservative bent. Six of its seven judges are Republican appointees.

When the ruling was announced, it was greeted with loud cheering and whooping, according to national news reports. About 100 people lined up outside to purchase copies of the decision for $10 apiece. Some people bought 10 to 15 copies, calling it an historic document.

Officials began to perform ceremonies in mid-June. Among them were Proctor and Childers.

Proctor said when they were getting ready for their trip to Indio, the memories of the almost-wedding four years ago creeped back into their minds.

But everything went according to plan this time.

The couple arrived in Indio, an historic town in the desert of Southern California. It’s near Palm Springs, where they also own a home.

At the courthouse, the couple took care of the paperwork. It was not too romantic, Proctor added.

“It (the courthouse) looks a little sterile. It was strictly business,” he said.

But getting married in the small courthouse also had its perks.

“No protesters,” Proctor noted.

He said the friendly staff handled the same-sex marriage with sensitivity.

Then it was time for the ceremony. Courthouse workers set up a special room for weddings with an arbor decorated with artificial flowers.

In keeping with the 117-degree temperature, the grooms were casual in black shirts to contrast with their Hawaiian men’s leis fashioned from Ti leaves and white Dendrobium orchids. They had ordered them from Honolulu.

“Our good friends traveled with us. There were 12 or so of us in the room,” Proctor recalled. And a few had Whidbey connections.

“Our witnesses were former Double Bluffers, now of P.S., Gil Melby and John Ross,” he said.

The only grain of salt: Their beloved dog Senior Julio, a Havanese, was not able to do his job as ring bearer due to the high temperatures.

“Remember it was 117 in the shade. Julio was at our Palm Springs home with the AC on,” Proctor said.

“It was a pretty straight forward civil ceremony. Nice language,” Proctor said.

Short, sweet, painless.

Then the couple switched roles from grooms to wedding guests.

“The marriage of our friends and neighbors, Tom and Larry, followed with their friends John and Harry attending,” Proctor said.

That night, the group shared a nice dinner and celebrated, but the big party didn’t happen until the next day.

“The next day the city of Palm Springs had a marriage festival,” Proctor said.

The town plaza was roped off and people celebrated in the streets. Proctor and Childers were interviewed by media from California and Washington.

“It’s not a private affair,” Proctor said.

But after 35 years, 10 months and seven days of waiting, a little attention wasn’t a bad thing.

Proctor said even after all these years of happily unmarried bliss, getting married was something both of them wanted dearly.

“We were raised to think marriage is a good thing. If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander,” Proctor said.

But he admitted their civil union underscores a point.

“It’s an historic opportunity. It’s a way of validating our love and affection,” Proctor said.

“It’s also a political statement,” he added.

Childers summed it up in few words.

“I guess it was just about time,” he said.

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