A Conversation with Shelly Bailes and Ellen Pontac
Shelly Bailes and Ellen Pontac have been a loving, committed couple for 39 years, have raised four children together, and live in Davis, California, outside Sacramento.
Shelly: "We met on a blind date on November 10, 1973, and have never looked back. When we first moved in together and created a family together with our four children from previous marriages, we never thought that there would be a possibility that we could ever get married. We had no protection for our family under the law. In fact, we didn't even know of any other same-sex couples raising children."
For years, Shelly and Ellen have worked tirelessly for marriage equality so that their relationship and the relationships of other LGBT people are fully recognized and protected under the law and respected by the community. They obtained a civil union on the steps of the Vermont State Supreme Court in 2000. In 2002, they registered as domestic partners with the State of California. Then came February 12, 2004, the day then-Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the door for all loving, committed couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, to wed in San Francisco County.
Ellen: "February 12, 2004, was a really wonderful day because we had the great joy of being the 45th couple to marry in San Francisco. When the California Supreme Court six months later ruled that our marriage was "null and void," we were utterly devastated. However, we knew we had to continue to stand up for our relationship and our family and for other LGBT couples as well. One of the most amazing things we did was join the "Marriage Equality Caravan" in October 2012, where we went cross-country with other same-sex couples and allies and spoke with Americans from Nevada to Kansas to Washington DC about why all people should have the freedom to marry. It was an incredible journey and experience to connect with such a wide range of people, back almost 10 years ago now."
In May 2008, the California Supreme Court held that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violated the state's constitution. The ban on same-sex couples marrying in California officially ended at 5:00 pm on June 16, 2008.
Shelly: "At 5:01 pm on June 16, 2008, Ellen and I exchanged vows together, and we heard the Yolo County Recorder (who kept the office open specially for us) proclaim: 'I now pronounce you MARRIED!' It was probably the greatest highlight of our life together. We'll never forget it, and we treasure the fact that we are legally married in the State of California. There is nothing like being married. When one of our daughters got engaged, we invited her fiancee to all our family events and included him in our life. But when they got married, we said, 'Welcome to the family!'"
Ellen: "We know what it means to have to refer to the most important person in your life as your 'partner,' or 'significant other.' Being married changes not only the fact that you can say, 'I'd like to introduce you to my wife,' but it changes the way you feel inside, and the way the world perceives you. We have both a domestic partnership and a marriage. Getting married has actually made us realize how inadequate being a domestic partner is. Now that we are married, we never refer to ourselves as domestic partners or even conceive of ourselves as such – we only refer to ourselves as married."
Proposition 8 reinstated the ban on same-sex couples marrying in California. Shelly and Ellen not only fought against the initiative but continue to fight for the freedom to marry for all, even though they remain legally married.
Shelly: "It is horrible that Proposition 8 took away the freedom to marry from lesbian and gay people in California. It is simply unfair that same-sex couples can no longer marry in our state. The political campaign in favor of Prop. 8 was mean-spirited and destructive and caused such pain to so many people. We are very hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will hold later this year that Prop. 8 and the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act," that withholds over 1,000 federal rights and protections for same-sex couples like us, are unconstitutional. The Declaration of Independence says that all people are 'created equal," and the Constitution should protect the rights of all of us – including LGBT people."
In addition to their work on behalf of LGBT people, Shelly and Ellen have been extraordinarily active members of the Davis community for years, volunteering with such diverse organizations as Davis Community Meals, the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Center, and the Davis Police Department.