STORIES: Lori & Karen

Lori & Karen: Legally Married after 25 Years

Tawnya Bissell is a senior at Drake University, studying English and Sociology. An Iowa native from Colfax, Tawnya chose to intern at One Iowa because she believes in equal rights for all Iowans.

Lori Blachford, the Fisher/Stelter Chair of Magazine Journalism for Drake University, and Karen Utke, project manager at Life Care Services, were married in 2009. “We met in college…would’ve been ’84,” Karen thought aloud, “’83, something like that.” They tried to piece together how long they’ve known each other and eventually settled on “a bazillion years.”

Lori said, “We’ve been unofficially married, or married in spirit since ‘84.”

The pair decided that if they were going to “officially” marry they would wait until it was legal in Iowa. “We’d promised ourselves we weren’t going to run around the country and get married. We’d do it here because Iowa is our home,” said Lori.

They didn’t hold the wedding ceremony immediately, but when the Varnum case granted the freedom to marry to all Iowans, the couple was among the first to get their marriage license. “We went down there day one to get our license, and we got married when we could.” The couple joked, “I mean, we didn’t want to rush anything after 25 years.”

Before their “official” marriage, Karen said that their biggest worry was security. “You worry when you don’t have those rights. The kids, the house – if anything happened, all the legal things you’d have to fight.”

“We worried about parental rights,” Lori added. “Our first son was born in 1992.” In what was a very tough legal climate for gays and lesbians at the time, they were worried that if Lori went through with the adoption process that they “would have been a test case in Iowa for second parent adoption,” Lori explained. “As out as we were, we were afraid to come forward so we didn’t do the adoption process. There were stories of women who left their husbands for another woman and had their children taken away.”

“Those things scared us,” Karen said. “For heterosexual married couples those things are inherent.”

Lori agreed, adding, “You sit on pins and needles hoping nothing happens. You surround yourself with piles and piles of legal documents.”

As their twenty-fifth anniversary approached, they made plans to celebrate, but after the Varnum ruling went through, Karen said, “we deferred it and waited, and actually had a wedding party.”

Karen and Lori agreed that not much had changed after their “official” wedding ceremony. “We’d already had a celebration. We’d made our commitment. I’m not saying making it legal wasn’t a big deal, it was,” said Lori. “We’d made commitments – we had a family, bought a home. We were out to our friends.”

Besides not having to worry about uncertainty dealing with legal matters, one of the biggest things for them was having their two boys, Kyle, age 18 and Ryan, age 15, present at their wedding. “They’ve grown up with it,” said Karen, so their thought was “it’s about time.”

Lori explained that the boys had felt a “differentness between their family and everyone else’s,” she said, even though their family is no different at all. Although the two decided that they didn’t need a marriage certificate to validate their commitment to each other, it meant a lot to the boys.

After “a bazillion years” of being together, the honeymoon is definitely over. That hasn’t stopped the couple from enjoying the equal legal standing that they now have along with every other legal couple in Iowa, Lori said, “especially considering we’ve outlasted many of them.”




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