When Kimball Allen and Scott Wells married in October, Seattle band Prom Queen serenaded the couple with a David Bowie cover song as they walked down the aisle. Later, during the reception held at Portland’s Jupiter Hotel, Washington state senator Marko Liias recited the text of Obergefell vs. Hodges, the 2015 US Supreme Court decision that legalized Allen and Wells’ right to marry in the first place. “It was magical,” Allen remembers. The couple thought about their future, about adopting or fostering children. The election was still a month away, and Allen and Wells were hopeful Hillary Clinton would win.
But just a month after the wedding, Allen and Wells’ sense of hope plummeted. The election went to Trump and his notoriously homophobic vice president-elect, Mike Pence. The newly married couple realized that a Trump appointee to the Supreme Court could reverse their hard-won rights. Allen started having trouble sleeping at night. The couple fought.
These had not been problems before.
Allen and Wells recounted this story to me while standing in front of the mammoth stage set for Donald Trump’s inauguration, just a few hundred feet from the Capitol lawn’s reflecting pool. Trump supporters in “Make America Great Again” hats and Burberry scarves milled around the two, snapping photos for their Facebook pages. The couple accepted inauguration tickets from south Seattle Congressman Adam Smith’s office before they knew the outcome of the election. Now, as far as I could tell, they were the only gay couple in sight near the platform that’s being used for swearing in Trump.
So why did they decide to attend the inauguration even after the election results went in a direction hostile to their values, their legal rights, and their sense of well-being?
“We’re not here because we’re excited to be here,” Allen told me. “After the election results, [Rep. Adam Smith] wrote back to us saying, ‘Do you really want to be on the ticket list?’ [Wells’] first impulse was, ‘Hell no, why would we be there?’ And we thought about it, and said, ‘No, we need to have a voice in this America, too.’”
To Allen and Wells, coming to the inauguration is an important way to reckon with a new and unexpected reality. “I feel like we definitely went through having someone close to us die,” Wells said. “There was a lot of denial in the beginning. Then tears, and anger. And then: Maybe the Electoral College will come through! Then the last one, maybe: acceptance.”
But for now, being in D.C. still feels surreal. That feeling intensified for Allen when he went to go collect his inauguration tickets from Rep. Smith’s office and saw lines of genuinely excited Trump supporters queuing outside the offices of their Congressional representatives from Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Allen and Wells spoke to one of these Trump supporters earlier in the morning. It didn’t go terribly. “We hugged afterward,” Allen said. “[But] what if I were a woman, or we were women of color, or Muslim? We were part of that conversation from a place of privilege as white men as well.”
And to a gay couple whose ability to have a family could be targeted by the new administration, the cognitive dissonance between “nice” Trump supporters and their political choices is still deeply disorienting. Republican ideologies aren’t foreign to Allen and Wells; both were born into conservative families in Idaho and Indiana, respectively. But their families have also started to recognize how their politics affect those close to them, and subsequently, their political alliances have begun to shift, too.
“My family’s Republican, but none of them voted Republican this time,” Wells said. “I asked [my mom] why and she said, ‘Because I love you.’”