“I made a rainbow! I made a rainbow!” one of Kacey Frierson and Chwanda Nixon’s seven children exclaims after hosing off the family car one recent Saturday. Two of her sisters are across the street playing with a neighbor’s dog in this quiet cul-de-sac in Jonesboro, while the four boys are off doing their own thing. A step inside the house reveals a living room wall filled with framed documents. A closer look and it becomes clear what they are—marriage licenses.
Kacey and Chwanda have made their relationship official in seven states plus the District of Columbia, and later this month they bring all seven kids along again to make it official in seven more, hoping to spread a message of love across the country that will hopefully resonate back home in Georgia where they have no such rights.
It all started after Kacey and Chwanda had a civil union in their native Illinois in April 2012. The following April, they wanted to legally marry to mark the anniversary. They picked New York as the state, and if they stopped right there, the story would be like so many others of same-sex Georgia couples marrying in other states. But then other states near New York started legalizing gay marriage, and Frierson had an idea.
“I was saying, ‘Well New York is right there and then if we drive up, Maine is here, and it’s legal in D.C., too, so we can stop there and loop around and hit all these places,’” she says.
Nixon was on board with the idea, telling GA Voice, “Of course I was game with it—I love her. I could marry her 2,000 times.”
And with that, the I Do Marathon was born, and last April, the family of nine piled into their Chevrolet Uplander van and set off on a journey to get hitched seven times over and show people what true love can accomplish.
IGNITING THE SPARKS Kacey, 38, and Chwanda, 40, met a couple of years back in Illinois when Chwanda was hosting a spoken word poetry open mic night at a local comedy club. That brief introduction didn’t produce any sparks, but they became Facebook friends and shortly thereafter, saw each other again at an event at a mutual friend’s house, where a bit of drama ensued.
“Chwanda thought my best friend was my girlfriend. And I find out later that Chwanda was talking mess about her the whole night,” Kacey says, laughing.
After that misunderstanding was cleared up, the spark was officially ignited, and the two haven’t look back since.
‘THEY WANT MOMS TO BE HAPPY’
So how do you pack seven teenagers into a van for a week-long road trip and live to tell about it? Having open-minded kids with positivemattitudes who are down for the adventure is a great start.
“I was so proud of them. They could have complained and whined. They were great about it. I tell them that all the time,” Kacey says.
“They are our best supporters,” Chwanda says. “They want moms to be happy and they love it. What kid wouldn’t want to be one of those kids who can say they’ve been almost everywhere in the world?”
They plastered their van with the I Do Marathon web address and hearts drawn all over, and the whole group even color-coordinated their clothing—a different color of the rainbow for each service.
But a question mark going into the trip was what the reactions would be from strangers coming upon this modern family. This was, after all, a pair of African-American lesbians proclaiming their love for each other in a very public way in a number of different places. But the couple says that the reactions were all positive, and if anyone had anything negative to say, they kept it to themselves. Having such a happy, supportive group of kids along with them seemed to bring out the best in others.
“By making it this great journey and bringing the kids along, it turns into so much more,” Kacey says. “It gets more people talking about it and it gets them into it. You tell your story and you drag one more person onto your support team. They’re generally really positive and curious when they find out.”
Even though they were covering seven states plus the District of Columbia in a five-day span, things didn’t seem rushed and they got to stop and enjoy each place along the way.
“Each city we went to, I made sure we would take a little time to enjoy the state we were in because who knows when we will be back?” Kacey says. “Each step of the way I wanted to make sure we did something memorable other than just get married. I’m all about making memories, because I’m not going to be here forever and if they [the children] have this small thing to hold onto, hey, it’s worth it to me.”
And despite doing service after service, the couple says that it doesn’t get old.
“The special part is us being a family together doing it each time,” Chwanda says.
TWEETING WITH THE STARS In the months following their return from the 2013 leg of the I Do Marathon, a major portionof the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, and more and more states legalized gay marriage. And the Frierson-Nixon family knew instantly what they wanted to do this April—hit a new batch of states (and another country) on the 2014 leg of the I Do Marathon.
So on April 21, they’ll hit the road again, aimed for New Jersey, Rhode Island and Delaware, followed by a day trip up to Toronto then back down to Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. They’ll be doing the rainbow colors again and, other than hoping to procure a bigger van this time around for their constantly growing children, not much else will change about this year’s trip.
Well, except for an Academy Award-winning actress officiating one of their weddings.
Last month, the couple was watching an interview with comedian and actress Mo’Nique and she mentioned how she was ordained to officiate weddings all over the country. So Frierson tweeted her asking if she would officiate one of their weddings. Mo’Nique didn’t hesitate to accept [read interview with Mo’Nique by clicking here] , they traded info and come April 25 the couple will stroll onstage during one of the comedian’s sets at the Funny Bone in West Des Moines, Iowa, and check state number 14 off the list in style.
THE FINAL FRAME The journey, the wedding services, the family time—the Nixon-Frierson clan will soak every second of it in, knowing a hard truth awaits their arrival back home.
“Even after we’ll have a total of 17 marriages, once we cross the Georgia border, me and Chwanda are legal strangers,” Kacey says. “We want to bring awareness that even after we do all this, it means nothing when we get home.”
Chwanda echoes her wife’s sentiments, saying, “The greatest thing that can become of this is Georgia getting it together so we can have the same marriage and love as everyone else. We’re doing this for everyone that wants marriage equality.”
“If our story gets out there and reaches one person, and it makes them feel that this family deserves this, that’s my goal,” Kacey says.
They’re already talking about the 2015 leg of the I Do Marathon, with a West Coast swing in the early planning stages. That means a lot more frames to buy.
But one frame that remains empty is the most important one of all, and might sadly be one of the last to be filled. But Kacey, Chwanda and their kids will be ready for that day.
“I can’t wait, I cannot wait,” Kacey says. “That’s going to be the party of all parties.”
“Oh yes,” Chwanda agrees. “We’re gonna throw it big in Georgia.”