Nine years ago, Jennifer Rambo was just this sort of shy girl who loved playing first base for the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils softball team.
Times have changed for Rambo, and possibly the entire state, since those days.
Rambo and her girlfriend of four years, Kristin Seaton, became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the state of Arkansas on Saturday morning at the Carroll County courthouse in Eureka Springs, gaining the couple exposure everywhere from Time to Newsweek to the Los Angeles Times.
Pulaski County circuit judge Chris Piazza ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional at 4:51 p.m. on Friday.
The couple were in Little Rock that day for a going away party as Seaton’s brother prepared to enter military basic training.
“We found out (about the ruling) on the news Friday, then later that night my cousin Dustin informed us that the courthouse in Eureka Springs would be open Saturday,” said Seaton. “We couldn’t believe it.”
“We were so excited,” Rambo said. “As soon as her cousin called, we and my sister Tammy got in the car and immediately drove to Eureka [Springs].”
Arriving in the middle of the night and sleeping in the car outside of the courthouse, the couple set their alarms for every 30 minutes to make certain they wouldn’t get pushed to the back of what was sure to be a long line.
When another car pulled up early in the morning, it was Rambo who sprinted to the door to keep their place in line.
But while the courthouse doors would open on time, it would take just a little bit longer and the possibility of a lot of broken hearts before Rambo was able to say, “I do.”
The clerk that morning told the crowd that she wouldn’t be issuing licenses because she did not have the authority to do so. At one point, just closing the door until she was given further instructions.
“It was heartbreaking,” Rambo said. “After she shut the door on all of us, about 75 couples, we stayed in line and just stayed positive. The next thing we know, the police were showing up and telling us we had to get out of the way so the ‘normal’ customers could come through.”
“We were devastated,” Seaton said. “Tears amongst just about everyone there. We went and sat back in the car for a little while.”
“My sister and Kristin kept saying they had a feeling we shouldn’t leave,” Rambo said. “I said a little prayer, asking God to prove that love conquers all, and it wasn’t long after that the doors reopened. Couples who had been together for close to 50 years were so kind to us, telling us to get back in the front of the line since we had stood there since 5 a.m. It was such a great feeling. So much love.”
The doors opened shortly after Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn arrived at 10 a.m. to intervene. Another key player was Laura Phillips, a nurse from Fayetteville who is also on the Board of Directors for the Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality and also an ordained minister.
“I drove in early that morning because I wanted to be there to make sure people could, in fact, get married,” Phillips said. “They (Rambo and Seaton) where both crying and shaking. We all were. It was such a huge thing and after all the emotions of the day, it was just wonderful to have it done.”
While they may already have their marriage license and the memories of what was became such a special day, they also have a traditional wedding planned in October for friends and family to attend.
Dealing with acne and peer pressure can make being a teenager tough. Recognizing your homosexuality as a teenager while living in a Bible Belt Southern state can sometimes break the spirit of the strongest person.
But Jacksonville appears to be a little more progressive and add that to a loving and supportive family, along with her own positive energy, and Rambo made it through her high school years no worse for the wear.
“Being gay in Jacksonville really wasn’t a big struggle for me,” Rambo said. “Yes, of course it was hard to come to terms with at first. No one really wakes up hoping to be unaccepted and ‘different’ than the mainstream society. There was a little negativity from people, but honestly, I couldn’t have asked for more support from my family, friends and school members. They were all so helpful getting me through such a confusing time in my life.”
“I still remember talking with my parents and sisters about it all. ‘As long as you’re happy, we couldn’t ask for anything more,’ is what they’d tell me. My parents told me not to shy away from what I feel in my heart, to stand for my rights and to remember that love conquers all. Thinking about those moments still gives me chills.”
Some of the best times while Rambo was at Jacksonville High School came during her time in athletics. She played softball, volleyball and was a cheerleader for the Red Devils. She still counts Tanya Ganey, a coach at the school, as a close friend.
“Softball was always my favorite sport and coach Ganey has always been a wonderful friend of my family and to me,” Rambo said. “She was an excellent coach. She worked with me a lot and helped me reach my potential. I can still remember her yelling at me ‘Come on Rambo, stay on your toes!’ She also used to sneak french fries to me on the bus because I’d pass out easily if I didn’t eat enough. She always had my back.”
After taking classes at ASU-Beebe after high school, Rambo took some time off to work. She went back to school and finished her Associate’s Degree at Northwest Community College in Bentonville in 2010, the same year she met Seaton, who was finishing her career on the volleyball court at the University of Arkansas.
Seaton, an elementary teacher in Fort Smith, where the couple lives, has since convinced Rambo to go back to school as a full time student where she’s majoring in English and plans to get a Master’s in School Counseling.
Rambo was able to enjoy her relatively normal teenage years not just from the support of her family and friends, but also because of her faith as a Christian.
Her strong beliefs have always been a part of Rambo’s life and are just as strong now, even when it is largely other Christians who have kept same-sex marriages off the books for decades.
“We were brought up religious and both Kristin and I are Christians who truly believe that God loves us the same as everyone else,” Rambo said. “One of the things my father always told us growing up, and it was actually one of the last things he told me before he passed away, was to make God my best friend because he will never leave my side. I wish that people didn’t have such a hard time accepting others, especially when the Bible is thrown into the mix. Romans 13:10 is a verse I hope everyone opens their heart to one day.”
Depending on the translation of the Bible used, the wording may be slightly different, but the verse reads “Love does no ill to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
“It’s an indescribable feeling to be a part of history,” Rambo said. “I’m still in shock by it all, but love and equality are two very important things. So, this new journey we’ve entered is worth every minute of it!”