Columbia City’s Valerie Curtis-Newton and Kim Powell had a good laugh when they showed up for their first date in 1997 dressed identically in what they call “Yankee comfort clothing”—loafers with no socks, khakis, an oversized white oxford shirt over a black tank top. They soon figured out that they had grown up a mere 45 miles apart, in small towns in Connecticut, and that they were suited to each other spiritually as well as sartorially. They bought a house together in the spring of 1998 and were legally married in Connecticut in 2009. “We wanted to wait out marriage in Washington state,” says Curtis-Newton, “but Proposition 8 came along, and I got radicalized because the rights that had been given to people [in California] had been taken away.”
Curtis-Newton is head of performance at the University of Washington School of Drama and also artistic director of ACT’s Hansberry Project, which promotes the work of African-American theater artists. Powell is a self-employed artist who applies custom finishes and patinas to metalwork for architects, contractors and metal fabricators.
Why does upholding the new law matter to them, since they are already married? “Gay marriage is not recognized in every state of the union, and heterosexual marriage is,” says Curtis-Newton. “It feels like my grandfather described: You could sit anywhere on the train until you hit Baltimore, then you had to move to the colored car. It’s like that for me. I’m still going to get to my destination, but I’m being asked to sit in the colored car.”
“We’ve always wanted to live in a place where we feel safe,” Powell adds. “If it becomes law, I think more people will feel safe to be themselves.” Being together has made them feel more safe being themselves. As Curtis-Newton says, “Our relationship made us braver in the world, which has made life easier.”