LISBON, Maine — Lisa Ward and Mel Cloutier gave up on ever getting married.
Sure, they could have had a commitment ceremony, but to Ward that felt fake, a pretend wedding for an imaginary marriage. They could have gone out of state, married in Vermont or New Hampshire, but the marriage wouldn’t have been honored in Maine and to Cloutier it wouldn’t have counted, not in the way that mattered to her.
“It’s like Monopoly money,” she said. “I want it to count in our state. I want to be recognized in my state, in my hometown, because I live here.”
So, after more than five years together, the couple exchanged commitment rings — stainless steel bands engraved with equal signs — and called it good enough.
“I didn’t know that I had put it aside already,” Ward said. “For a long time, it was, ‘It’s not possible, it’s not possible.'”
On Monday, it will be possible.
Ward, 48, a Lisbon town councilor and a sales consultant for F.W. Webb, and Cloutier, 41, an employee at L.L. Bean, will marry in front of Lisbon Town Hall, under the town’s old pine tree, surrounded by family and friends. They’ll be the first same-sex couple to marry in town. At least, they plan to be the first, even if, they joke, Cloutier has to camp outside in the snow and race other couples to the door.
“It is still, sometimes, surreal,” Ward said. “You know, there’s almost an urgency to getting married on Monday. In case it gets taken away again. There’s that knot in your stomach.”
The women met about 13 years ago. Cloutier was friends with Ward’s sister and her partner, and Cloutier and Ward would often find themselves at the same birthday party or barbecue or New Year’s party. Cloutier thought Ward was pretty and funny.
“I wanted to get to know her more than just the surface. I wanted to get to know what was inside that pretty little head,” Cloutier said.
But Ward was just getting out of a seven-year relationship. She didn’t think she was ready to date.
“I didn’t know it was going to turn into a relationship,” Ward said. “I really just thought, ‘You know what, I need to go out, I need to socialize. I need to be around people who like to be around each other,'” Ward said. She turned to Cloutier accusingly, “And you wore those awful pants!”
Gray wind pants aside (“I could hear them swishing as you walked!” Ward reminded her), their first date, to a Lewiston pizza place, led to a second date, which led to a third. It was casual, low-key, just what Ward needed.
“We didn’t even tell anyone we were dating for, what, four months?” Ward said. “We didn’t even tell my sister. We now know she figured it out.”
The couple moved in together after about a year, renting the top floor of an old Lisbon Falls farmhouse-turned-apartment building. They fell in love with the view.
“On a clear day we can see Mount Washington. In the winter we can see the falls,” Ward said.
Over the next dozen years, they saw each other through jobs, illnesses and life changes. With Ward’s help, Cloutier kicked her two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. With Cloutier’s help, Ward ran for Town Council and won. They built a life together.
Their engagement, however, was something of an accident.
On a sweltering summer day a few years ago, Cloutier sat in the living room and listlessly played around with her Facebook account. They’d long listed their relationship status as “domestic partnership,” but it wasn’t a term either of them liked.
Cloutier suddenly noticed that Facebook would allow them to switch to something that sounded a whole lot better. She looked at Ward.
“Hey, we can be engaged on Facebook,” she said. “You want to be engaged?”
Ward, trying to stay cool in front of a fan, said, “Sure.”
Within hours, friends and family members inundated them with calls and emails, wanting to know who popped the question, how she asked, when they were holding the ceremony.
“One of my best friends from college called me up and was like, ‘Lisa Ward, you know I am the first person you are supposed to call!'” Ward said
They weren’t really thinking about getting married at the time. They couldn’t if they wanted to. But they were engaged. It was something.
“Then it made it real when [the law] passed,” Cloutier said.
Both had volunteered for EqualityMaine, one of the largest proponents of same-sex marriage in Maine. Both were at a Yes on One election-night party in Lewiston on Nov. 6 when the votes came in.
The results were called after midnight. With nearly 53 percent of the vote, same-sex marriage became legal in Maine.
“We cried,” Cloutier said. “We hugged each other and cried. Everybody was clapping and cheering around us. We were hugging people and they were hugging us and we didn’t even know these people. That was an awesome night.”
Cloutier, who normally goes to bed shortly after sundown, was too excited to sleep until nearly sunrise.
“I was on Cloud 9,” she said.
Cloutier and Ward had been through 2009, when a people’s veto repealed the Maine Legislature’s law making same-sex marriage legal in Maine. They know the right to marry can’t be taken away from them this time, but the uneasiness lingers. So while they plan to hold a big wedding with all of their friends and family in the fall, they’ll have a smaller wedding on Monday, the first day the town hall will be open after Maine’s same-sex marriage law takes effect.
Cloutier will wear a suit and tie, Ward a dress coat and blouse. They’ll get their marriage license from the town clerk, then stand in the snow and say their vows with a friend who is a notary public presiding
Cloutier and Ward will take off their commitment rings and replace them with wedding bands, heirlooms given to them by another friend.
They’re nervous. And excited.
“It’s almost like the final chapter,” Ward said. “Like the final chapter in the book where you already know how it ends. It’s the rest of the story.”