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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gay marriage in Spokane: The trip to wedded bliss

Many same-sex couples are traveling to Washington for their nuptials

Hosanna Lahaie-Lee, left, and Kat Pinette, of Alaska, embrace after being wed Aug. 22 at the Davenport Tower in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Hosanna Lahaie-Lee, left, and Kat Pinette, of Alaska, embrace after being wed Aug. 22 at the Davenport Tower in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

After 18 years, two states and one Supreme Court decision, Kat Pinette and Hosanna Lahaie-Lee said their “I do’s.”

Pinette and Lahaie-Lee held hands on Aug. 22 before a small group of family and friends, piled on the bed and in chairs inside a honeymoon suite at the Davenport Tower. Both were clad simply in white slacks and purple tops, the room decorated with only a few flowers and a plate of cupcakes.

They aren’t much for ceremony, they said. After all, traveling all the way from Alaska to get married is enough work.

Pinette and Lahaie-Lee join hundreds of same-sex couples who have traveled to Washington for their weddings, a trend the Department of Health reports is happening statewide. According to the Department of Health, about 14 percent of same-sex couples who have gotten married in Washington traveled here from out of state, compared to 4 percent of opposite-sex couples.

“We seized a moment that we thought we might never see in our lifetime,” Lahaie-Lee said.

Karen Fishburn of Ralph’s Regal Weddings, a Spokane company that plans weddings, said about half of the same-sex marriages the company has organized are for out-of-state couples.

Spokane County marriage records indicate most couples haven’t come as far as Pinette and Lahaie-Lee. Most of the 74 same-sex couples who have traveled are from either Montana or Idaho.

This map shows the home states of the 74 couples who traveled to Spokane County to get married.

A Montana man, who wished not to be named for fear of losing his job, is marrying his partner in Spokane late this summer. Though the couple doesn’t have family ties to the region, he said it was easy for them to drive over and have a simple courtroom ceremony.

Total marriages are up in Spokane County, according to the Spokane County Auditor’s Office. The office reported a 22 percent increase in July from the previous year, heading into peak wedding season. Auditor Vicky Dalton said part of that is attributable to same-sex marriages.

“It definitely has increased the market,” she said. “There’s more people able to come in and get marriage licenses.”

However, she added, same-sex marriages don’t account for the entire increase. As the economy improves, she said, people are making more “major decisions” in their lives.

“People are just trying to live their lives again,” she said.

Pinette and Lahaie-Lee both grew up in Spokane but moved to Anchorage when Pinette took a job with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The couple had a commitment ceremony in Hawaii in 1998 but always wanted something more, something recognized by the government, just like their friends in opposite-sex relationships had.

When the opportunity became available, marrying in Spokane made sense for the couple: Their family is nearby, their roots are in the Inland Northwest and it was an affordable place to have the small ceremony they desired.

Then there’s the timing. Lahaie-Lee has a chronic medical condition and was forced to retire from her job. Because Alaska doesn’t legally recognize same-sex couples, Pinette was unable to add her partner to her insurance plan – until the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26.

“We went out, and we hung our flag up,” Lahaie-Lee said. “We were out there and our neighbor came across the street, and we did a happy dance.”

But even that was a convenience compared to the incredible feeling of lightness both partners described.

“We have our freedom. We have our freedom to love each other,” Lahaie-Lee said.

“The validation was tremendous,” Pinette added.

The same holds true for Nora Fenlon and Sandra Bowie, a Reno, Nev., couple who met nine years ago in Spokane and recently returned for their wedding.

Fenlon is from Ireland and moved to Nevada 15 years ago. Six years later, she met Bowie when their paths crossed for work.

Fenlon said it didn’t take long for them to fall in love. The first time she heard Bowie play the piano at the Davenport, she knew she’d found the one.

Bowie soon moved to Nevada to be with Fenlon, but Spokane was always a special place for them. Bowie’s family lives in the area, so when gay marriage became legal in Washington, the decision to travel was easy.

“To be able to celebrate our wedding publicly with our family and introduce our family to each other was just an incredible experience,” Fenlon said.

The end of the Defense of Marriage Act meant Fenlon could become a United States citizen while keeping her Irish citizenship, making the day even more special.

“The timing was coming together,” Bowie said. “It just made our service in August feel that much more important and real and recognized.”

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