“We go to work, just like you do, we go to college, just like you do, we eat and breathe, just like you do, we want to be married, just like everyone else does who are in love.”
Jason Pickel sees marrying the love of his life, Darren Black Bear, as simple as that.
“We want to be together, we want to be married,” Jason said over the telephone.
And that is what they are doing.
On October 10, 2013 Jason and Darren signed for their marriage license at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Courthouse in Concho, Oklahoma.
The state of Oklahoma does not allow for same-sex marriages, however, on Sovereign Indian land, state laws do not apply … federal laws do, and the federal government has taken the stand to recognize same-sex marriages within the United States.
Recently Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin ordered the National Guard to stop processing requests for military benefits for same-sex couples, despite a Pentagon directive to do so. Their stance, according to Fallin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz is, “same-sex couples who have been legally married in other states will be advised they can apply for benefits on federal facilities, such as Tinker Air Force Base, rather than state run facilities.”
But what about non-military gay couples? According to the law, Jason and Darren will be able to file a federal tax return as a married couple, however on their state returns they are mandated to file single. As far as state benefits, there will be none as a married couple.
Jason and Darren have been together for over nine years. They first met in Ft. Payne, Alabama at a Christmas party hosted by Darren’s brother.
“Darren’s brother managed the store that I worked at … I had briefly met him before at the store, but I met him at the Christmas party. We started seeing each other probably two days after that,” Jason said.
Darren said he was intrigued by Jason when they first met, “and he started talking to me and conversing. He told me some things about himself and we talked late into the night. I had taken my sister-in-law Christmas shopping earlier that day in Chattanooga and she told me they were having this Christmas party and asked me if I wanted to come in. So I said sure, so it was just fate because I wasn’t even really supposed to be there, I just sort of crashed the party and that was nine years ago.”
Both Jason and Darren have grown up knowing they were gay from an early age.
Jason said he believes he has known he had an interest in the same sex from the time he was about 5 years old, but he also dated girls for a long time and considered himself to be bi-sexual, until falling in love with Darren.
“I think my mom, she kind of always knew, it was just never spoken out loud. She is very liberal and we were raised pretty open. She had gay and lesbian friends and it was just a part of our lives, nothing out of the ordinary. I was probably around 21 when I actually told my whole family,” Jason said. “I had inadvertently ended up marching in Tampa, Florida’s first gay rights parade and ended up on the news. I had gone as a spectator and I knew some people there and they said, ‘hey come with us on our float,’ and I was on the news, so my dad’s co-worker pointed me out on the news to my dad. My dad was like, ‘oh, whatever.’ They just don’t care, they are very liberal, accepting and loving. I come from a deeply Christian background and everyone was very accepting of me … I have at least six gay or lesbian relatives and no one has ever put me down in my family and have always been very supportive. They have welcomed Darren into our family and treat him just like he has always been there.”
Jason said he had some issues with bullying in high school, but not as much as other people because of his parent’s social standing and he wasn’t as “flamboyantly gay as some people were.”
“I did have girlfriends so that helped a lot. But I was probably called faggot at least ten times a day or better. I was never assaulted physically, just verbally. There was this funny story that happened one time when I was in the 10th grade when we had moved to Florida. It was over Christmas break and my family and I had gone on vacation and when we got back from vacation and the holiday and I went back to school someone came up to me, that didn’t know who I was, and said, ‘did you hear about Jason Pickel?’ I said, ‘no what about him?’ This person said, ‘well he announced that he was gay at assembly right before Christmas break. “I said wow, that’s amazing … well nice to meet you my name is Jason Pickel and right before Christmas break me and my family were on a ski trip so I wasn’t at the rally, so I don’t know where you got your information from. I threw that person for a loop and they never spoke to me again the entire time I went to high school. I was dating one of the popular girls in school at the time so for all intense purposes I think everyone was thoroughly confused. Even my family was confused because right before I met Darren I was with a woman for almost a year living together.”
Darren said he also thought his parents already knew, but it took them awhile to deal with the concept and getting over the fact that they were not going to have grandchildren.
“I think I have always known, ever since way back in grade school that I was attracted to boys. I never really found girls attractive, though I found them to be funny and had fun hanging out with them, but I wasn’t drawn to them. It took me a little while to figure out I was gay and if finally hit me when my first crush was on another boy in the, I guess, about fourth or fifth grade. Somewhere around there,” Darren said. “I think I was about 21 years old too when I first came out to my best friend at work. I finally had the courage to just blurt it out to her at work. She didn’t treat me any different, I think she already knew too and was just waiting for me to tell her and it’s the same way with my parents. I think they always just kind of knew. With my mother, I finally got tired of hiding it from her so I drove her down to Oklahoma City to the gay bars one night and told her this is where I like to come and hang out on the weekends. So we went in and everybody was real nice to her that were working the doors at the club and were really friendly towards her.”
For Darren’s dad, it took him a little while for their relationship to be back “on track.”
“It took a lot of growing on my part. He mellowed out as he got older, we forgave one another and started a new relationship and today we have a really strong relationship … I love and respect my dad. I didn’t always back then, but you know I was a kid and was mouthy.”
Despite the obstacles Jason and Darren have walked through, they have vowed to love, honor and cherish each other and they will continue to fight for the rights of all gay couples to be able to take the wedding vows that they themselves said on October 10.
Jason and Darren will be hosting a wedding ceremony at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 31 at the Watonga Multi-Purpose Center in Watonga, Oklahoma.
Rosemary Stephens is Editor-in-Chief/Director of Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune, this story first appeared in the Tribune.