Sitka couple’s 10-year marriage recognized

Heidi, at left, and Karla Horner Raffaele met in Sitka in 1993. They work in town as a school administrator and school director, respectively, for the Southeast Enrichment Resource School (KCAW photo/Emily Kwong).
Heidi, at left, and Karla Horner Raffaele met in Sitka in 1993. They work in town as a school administrator and school director, respectively, for the Southeast Enrichment Resource School (KCAW photo/Emily Kwong).

On Sunday, a federal judge overturned Alaska’s 16-year ban on same-sex marriage. He ordered the state to recognize legal marriages made in other states and to issue new licenses immediately. By Monday morning, applications appeared in court houses across Alaska. They were gender neutral, with boxes labeled “Party A and Party B,” instead of “Bride and Groom.”

By 11:30am, there was no line at the courthouse. Just the ding of an elevator door. Heidi Horner Raffaele and Karla Horner Raffaele had come to apply for a marriage license.

“I’m 52 and I just never thought I would have this opportunity,” said Raffaele. “So perhaps that’s why I’m a little nervous. What it does is it helps bring about 1,100 rights that are given to straight couples – to typical couples and that now gives those rights to us.”

Heidi and Karla met in 1993 through a mutual friend. But, the first time Heidi technically saw Karla, was in passing.

“[Karla] was the manager at McDonald’s and working on her teaching certificate and I was a teacher,” said Heidi. “And I drove through the drive through and saw this cute little red head and I just thought, ‘My goodness isn’t she cute.’ And so I drove around again.’”

Karla, however, is fuzzy on these details.

Karla: Yeah, I still can’t remember. Thinking back over it.

Heidi: Yes, she did not notice me in the least. But it’s been kismet ever since. You know, 19 years.

In those 19 years, the couple adopted 12 children and actively pursued opportunities to wed. The first came in 2004, when city officials in San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses.

“Karla and I had the opportunity to fly down,” said Heidi. “Our friends in Sitka and our family in Sitka jumped in right away and said, ‘Hey we’ll watch all the kids. You and Karla go down to San Francisco.’  So we did and we got married.”

But a few weeks later, they got a letter from the California Supreme Court. It declared their marriage null and void. They married again four years later, in San Francisco in 2008, this time for keeps, but the marriage still wasn’t recognized in the state of Alaska.

When Heidi and Karla went to the courthouse Monday, they expected to have to apply for a third time. But they learned from court clerk Leslie LaPean that that wouldn’t be necessary.

LaPean: You just present the certificate that you got from California.

Heidi: Great.

LaPean: And that’s it.

Heidi: Actually, I think that’s terrific. What do you think, Karla?

Karla: Saves me $60.

Heidi: (Laughing) Yes it does, by golly…that means I don’t have to buy a bigger ring. And thank you for doing that.

LaPean: Oh, you’re welcome.

Though somewhat anticlimactic, Heidi and Karla expressed gratitude to finally be considered a married couple in the town they call home.

“It was very kind and very personable and very supportive and they were excited for us and I think that’s what I would wish for every couple applying for their first license,” said Heidi. “And for couples married elsewhere, I would wish for them the joy and excitement of knowing they are equal. That we are equal.”

In a press release, Governor Sean Parnell said that the state will appeal the same sex ruling in order to “defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution.” But for now, there is a permanent injunction on the enforcement of marriage laws in place. As of Monday afternoon, 11 same sex couples in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage had applied for licenses to marry.

KCAW - Sitka

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