It was July 1 in West Hollywood, less than a week after the Supreme Court struck down Proposition 8 and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Pam and Helen Anderson-Holt seemed to be just another joyous couple anxious to fulfill their lifelong dream of getting married. But there was a quiet urgency just beneath the surface of their excitement: last year Pam Holt was diagnosed with inoperable stage IV metastatic colorectal cancer and was given only a year to live.
And that wedding day, Pam and Helen seemed to face one obstacle after another. Early in the morning, the recorder-registrar's office in Lancaster had denied them a marriage license because Pam's ID had expired when she was undergoing chemo and the clerk wouldn't accept her birth certificate or any other ID. The couple, who have been together for more than 18 years, drove the 45 miles from Palmdale to the Beverly Hills courthouse to try again - while the lesbian partner of Helen's late sister and their two nephews drove to WeHo to stand in line. But Beverly Hills spurned them, too. By the time Pam and Helen joined their extended family at WeHo City Hall, they were dejected and Pam was exhausted.
But WeHo staffers saw their angst and intervened, telling their story to Los Angeles County Recorder-Registrar Dean Logan, who was present to deputize WeHo City Councilmembers and others to officiate at the weddings. Logan called the Beverly Hills courthouse on their behalf and after another trip there and back, Pam and Helen were married. Gay WeHo City Councilmember John Duran officiated, choking back tears as he pronounced them spouses for life.
They hugged tightly for a very long time.
I asked them if they were planning on a honeymoon, but they didn't know at the time. Pam did not complain and any time anyone looked at her, she would flash a big smile. But she was clearly struggling. Later Helen got back to me and said they'd created a fundraiser on GoFundMe hoping folks would chip in to help them get to the Seattle Space Needle -- Pam lived in the Seattle area from about 4th grade through 11th grade and wanted to go back one last time before the end. They also hope to spend a few days at Disneyland; Pam's oncologist said she could work around the trips.
As of Tuesday, July 16, Pam and Helen are almost halfway to raising the $5,000 it costs for a four-night vacation package at Disneyland's Grand California Hotel & Spa (plus wheelchair rentals and dining expenses). Many of the donations have come in small amounts of $5 or $10 from folks who want to help but can only give a little. And Pam and Helen are grateful for every cent. On Monday, Helen wrote on the GoFundMe site: "Pam and I so thankful for each of you. Wow we are almost to the half way to our goal. Pam will be scanned on Thursday of this week and we can then make our reservations. To say we are excited is an understatement!!!"
Pulling for this couple to have some sort of a honeymoon while Pam can still enjoy it is one thing. But the couple has also endured more than their share of grief. Helen told me: "Pam first became critically ill in May of 2011, but it was non-stop hospital stays, two surgeries, and too many trips to the ER to count before Pam was finally diagnosed the following November. In fact, we had to leave southern California and our home, pets, and family and go to northern California for Pam to be diagnosed."
When they return from their honeymoon, I intend to follow up on their story to find out why the medical community in Southern California seemed to fail this extraordinary couple.
For more information about Helen and Pam, click here to visit their GoFundMe page.