Litcatzin "Lee" Yoakum and Erica Vargas plan to legally tie the knot today, but for them, March 26, 2011 will always be the day they got married.
That's the date that Yoakum and Vargas exchanged vows at the Bakersfield Museum of Art surrounded by family and friends in a "full-blown wedding," as Vargas recalled it. The brides wore the same white V-necked dress, which gave their loved ones a good laugh after they shopped separately but still picked identical dresses.
"Everything that you can think of (that) a traditional wedding would have, ours was that. We're just not legal," Vargas said.
But today will offer the women, both 29, the opportunity to change that particular. Kern County is slated to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples again following a historic week that culminated with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifting a stay on same-sex marriages Friday.
On Sunday, sitting under their wedding photos in their tidy East Bakersfield home, the woman spoke of their anticipation for this morning and another milestone in their long relationship.
"The (court's) decision is very emotional for me because I think Lee had the opportunity to deal with a lot of the judgment and stuff earlier and I'm just now experienceing that as our relationship progresses," said Vargas, an administrative coordinator and health educator with Clinica Sierra Vista.
After many years as friends, Vargas said at first she was scared of committing to Yoakum, of coming out.
The two met as sophomores at Bakersfield High School when Yoakum boldly introduced herself on the first day of English class.
"I just knew that she was so like cute and I wanted to talk to her. At that time I was just barely coming out," said Yoakum, a case manager for Kern County Mental Health and intern therapist.
They wrote each other letters in high school, but Vargas was in a committed relationship with a male. She married at 17 and had four children.
After Vargas' longterm relationship ended in 2008, Yoakum and Vargas became roommates. Vargas was laid off from her job and Yoakum became her "rock" in a rough time.
"I realized, I have her sitting right in front of me this whole time and I'm just so scared to let my feelings out," Vargas said.
Vargas asked Yoakum to be her girlfriend with a note in 2009, leaving her a box to check for "yes" and one for "no." The next year, Yoakum proposed to Vargas on Venice Beach as the sun set, barely able to speak through her tears.
Cristin Rodman, Vargas' best friend, said she was shocked by the relationship at first. Rodman said she grew up religious, attending church and cultivating beliefs from the Bible. But her feelings towards gay relationships began to change as she watched her best friend's partnership grow.
Rodman said with Yoakum, Vargas is the happiest she has ever been and as a family unit, the women are the same as any other couple.
"I still hold my religious beliefs but I feel like I've been warmed over by all of this and the people that have come into my life who are gay," she said.
Rodman was a bridesmaid in the March 2011 wedding and on the photograph mat that served as a guest book, she scrawled, "I understand it now!"
Though Vargas hoped for a small beach affair to mark her marriage's legality, the couple said they do not want to waste any time before making things official.
"I am so fearful and I haven't gotten any sleep the last couple of days because I wake up just thinking (opponents of gay marriage are) gonna take it away from us again," Vargas said.
So instead family and friends will accompany the women to obtain their marriage license and legally wed in Bakersfield. Instead of matching dresses, Vargas and Yoakum plan to wear jeans.
In the evening, they will celebrate with other couples at a reception hosted by Bakersfield LGBTQ. Whitney Weddell, chair of the group, said they will have officiants waiting in a courtyard near the Kern County Clerk's Office to perform simple wedding ceremonies for free all day long. On the first day same-sex marriage was legal in 2008, the group married 27 couples, she said.
"We are delighted to be back in business," Weddell said, adding that she hopes it's the last time they perform a barrage of weddings in one day.
Yoakum and Vargas worried about bringing the children, four girls ranging in age from 7 to 15, to the event. But Yoakum said the girls were upset at the prospect of being excluded, so they will come as well.
"I think being a positive role model for our daughters is most important so they too will know what real love is and what a committed relationship should look like," Yoakum said. "And now that we are gonna be legal, we won't be second-class citizens."