I DO! i DO! I DO!

Ga. cou­ple cross­ing coun­try on mar­riage marathon.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PATRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

“I made a rain­bow! I made a rain­bow!” one of Kacey Frierson and Ch­wanda Nixon’s seven chil­dren ex­claims af­ter hos­ing off the fam­ily car one re­cent Satur­day. Two of her sis­ters are across the street play­ing with a neighbor’s dog in this quiet cul-de-sac in Jones­boro, while the four boys are off do­ing their own thing. A step in­side the house re­veals a liv­ing room wall filled with framed documents. A closer look and it be­comes clear what they are—mar­riage li­censes.

Kacey and Ch­wanda have made their re­la­tion­ship of­fi­cial in seven states plus the District of Columbia, and later this month they bring all seven kids along again to make it of­fi­cial in seven more, hop­ing to spread a mes­sage of love across the coun­try that will hope­fully res­onate back home in Ge­or­gia where they have no such rights.

It all started af­ter Kacey and Ch­wanda had a civil union in their na­tive Illi­nois in April 2012. The fol­low­ing April, they wanted to legally marry to mark the an­niver­sary. They picked New York as the state, and if they stopped right there, the story would be like so many oth­ers of same-sex Ge­or­gia cou­ples mar­ry­ing in other states. But then other states near New York started le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage, and Frierson had an idea.

“I was say­ing, ‘ Well New York is right there and then if we drive up, Maine is here, and it’s le­gal in D.C., too, so we can stop there and loop around and hit all these places,’” she says.

Nixon was on board with the idea, telling GA Voice, “Of course I was game with it—I love her. I could marry her 2,000 times.”

And with that, the I Do Maratho” was born, and last April, the fam­ily of nine piled into their Chevro­let Up­lan­der van and set off on a jour­ney to get hitched seven times over and show people what true love can ac­com­plish.

IG­NIT­ING THE SPARKS

Kacey, 38, and Ch­wanda, 40, met a cou­ple of years back in Illi­nois when Ch­wanda was host­ing a spo­ken word po­etry open mic night at a lo­cal com­edy club. That brief in­tro­duc­tion didn’t pro­duce any sparks, but they be­came Face­book friends and shortly there­after, saw each other again at an event at a mu­tual friend’s house, where a bit of drama en­sued.

“Ch­wanda thought my best friend was my girl­friend. And I find out later that Ch­wanda was talk­ing mess about her the whole night,” Kacey says, laugh­ing.

Af­ter that mis­un­der­stand­ing was cleared up, the spark was of­fi­cially ig­nited, and the two haven’t look back since.

‘THEY WANT MOMS TO BE HAPPY’

So how do you pack seven teenagers into a van for a week-long road trip and live to tell about it? Hav­ing open-minded kids with pos­i­tive at­ti­tudes who are down for the ad­ven­ture is a great start.

“I was so proud of them. They could have com­plained and whined. They were great about it. I tell them that all the time,” Kacey says.

“They are our best sup­port­ers,” Ch­wanda says. “They want moms to be happy and they love it. What kid wouldn’t want to be one of those kids who can say they’ve been al­most every­where in the world?”

They plas­tered their van with the I Do Marathon web ad­dress and hearts drawn all over, and the whole group even color-co­or­di­nated their cloth­ing—a dif­fer­ent color of the rain­bow for each ser­vice.

But a ques­tion mark go­ing into the trip was what the re­ac­tions would be from strangers com­ing upon this mod­ern fam­ily. This was, af­ter all, a pair of African-Amer­i­can les­bians pro­claim­ing their love for each other in a very pub­lic way in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent places. But the cou­ple says that the re­ac­tions were all pos­i­tive, and if any­one had any­thing neg­a­tive to say, they kept it to them­selves. Hav­ing such a happy, sup­port­ive group of kids along with them seemed to bring out the best in oth­ers.

“By mak­ing it this great jour­ney and bring­ing the kids along, it turns into so much more,” Kacey says. “It gets more people talk­ing about it and it gets them into it. You tell your story and you drag one more per­son onto your sup­port team. They’re gen­er­ally re­ally pos­i­tive and cu­ri­ous when they find out.”

Even though they were cov­er­ing seven states plus the District of Columbia in a five-day span, things didn’t seem rushed and they got to stop and en­joy each place along the way.

“Each city we went to, I made sure we would take a lit­tle time to en­joy the state we were in be­cause who knows when we will be back?” Kacey says. “Each step of the way I wanted to make sure we did some­thing mem­o­rable other than just get mar­ried. I’m all about mak­ing mem­o­ries, be­cause I’m not go­ing to be here for­ever and if they [the chil­dren] have this small thing to hold onto, hey, it’s worth it to me.”

And de­spite do­ing ser­vice af­ter ser­vice, the cou­ple says that it doesn’t get old.

“The spe­cial part is us be­ing a fam­ily to­gether do­ing it each time,” Ch­wanda says.

TWEET­ING WITH THE STARS

In the months fol­low­ing their re­turn from the 2013 leg of the I Do Marathon, a ma­jor por­tion of the De­fense of Mar­riage Act was struck down, and more and more states le­gal­ized gay mar­riage. And the Frierson-Nixon fam­ily knew in­stantly what they wanted to do this April— hit a new batch of states (and an­other coun­try) on the 2014 leg of the I Do Marathon.

So on April 21, they’ll hit the road again, aimed for New Jersey, Rhode Is­land and Delaware, fol­lowed by a day trip up to Toronto then back down to Min­nesota, Iowa and Illi­nois. They’ll be do­ing the rain­bow col­ors again and, other than hop­ing to pro­cure a big­ger van this time around for their con­stantly grow­ing chil­dren, not much else will change about this year’s trip.

Well, ex­cept for an Academy Award-win- ning ac­tress of­fi­ci­at­ing one of their wed­dings.

Last month, the cou­ple was watch­ing an in­ter­view with co­me­dian and ac­tress Mo’Nique and she men­tioned how she was or­dained to of­fi­ci­ate wed­dings all over the coun­try. So Frierson tweeted her ask­ing if she would of­fi­ci­ate one of their wed­dings. Mo’Nique didn’t hes­i­tate to ac­cept, they traded info and come April 25 the cou­ple will stroll on­stage dur­ing one of the co­me­dian’s sets at the Funny Bone in West Des Moines, Iowa, and check state num­ber 14 off the list in style.

THE FI­NAL FRAME

The jour­ney, the wed­ding ser­vices, the fam­ily time—the Nixon-Frierson clan will soak ev­ery sec­ond of it in, know­ing a hard truth awaits their ar­rival back home.

“Even af­ter we’ll have a to­tal of 17 mar­riages, once we cross the Ge­or­gia bor­der, me and Ch­wanda are le­gal strangers,” Kacey says. “We want to bring aware­ness that even af­ter we do all this, it means noth­ing when we get home.”

Ch­wanda echoes her wife’s sen­ti­ments, say­ing, “The great­est thing that can be­come of this is Ge­or­gia get­ting it to­gether so we can have the same mar­riage and love as ev­ery­one else. We’re do­ing this for ev­ery­one that wants mar­riage equal­ity.”

“If our story gets out there and reaches one per­son, and it makes them feel that this fam­ily de­serves this, that’s my goal,” Kacey says.

They’re al­ready talk­ing about the 2015 leg of the I Do Marathon, with a West Coast swing in the early plan­ning stages. That means a lot more frames to buy.

But one frame that re­mains empty is the most im­por­tant one of all, and might sadly be one of the last to be filled. But Kacey, Ch­wanda and their kids will be ready for that day.

“I can’t wait, I can­not wait,” Kacey says. “That’s go­ing to be the party of all par­ties.”

“Oh yes,” Ch­wanda agrees. “We’re gonna throw it big in Ge­or­gia.”

Kacey (right, in red pants) and Ch­wanda (in red shirt and black pants) Frierson-Nixon and their daugh­ters pose in front of the van along with their four sons they took with up and down the East Coast on the first leg of the I Do Marathon. (Pho­tos by Patrick Saun­ders)

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