In September 2018, Lauren Davis Pariani and Kate Elizabeth Schatz met on a school playground. Their sons, who had just started kindergarten, soon after became best friends and during multiple play dates the two women forged a close bond.
At the time, both lived in Alameda, Calif., a small island community just off Oakland, with their husbands.
“When I met Kate I knew that she would change my life, but I didn’t exactly know how,” said Ms. Pariani, who works in patient advocacy at the biotechnology company Genentech. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m not the only one like me.’”
Ms. Pariani was going through some challenges in her marriage and the supportive friendship was a godsend. Yet the texts that flew between her and Ms. Schatz seemed more intimate than what she imagined was normal for a “mom friendship,” she said.
But for Ms. Schatz, 44, whose marriage was solid, meeting Ms. Pariani, 43, also stirred up complicated feelings. Following a stable childhood in San Jose, Calif., she attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a dual bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and creative writing before earning an M.F.A. in literary arts at Brown.
A writer, activist and public speaker, Ms. Schatz is the author of the Rad Women book series, and “Do the Work: An Anti-Racist Activity Book,” written with W. Kamau Bell. Before her marriage, she had been involved with both men and women, she said.
While their children played together after school and on weekends, the women’s connection deepened. In January 2019, they cycled to a friend’s birthday party and stopped at a local bar afterward for a drink. Sitting closely, Ms. Pariani bravely asked the question that had been lingering for both: “What’s going on here?” she said.
“I’m married, but I’m queer,” said Ms. Schatz, who then confessed her strong feelings for Ms. Pariani. Ms. Pariani’s response was direct: “Me too,” she said.
The admission prompted Ms. Schatz to share the news with her husband and soon after the couple opened their relationship. “At that time, I just couldn’t imagine divorcing,” said Ms. Schatz, whose parents have been married nearly 50 years.
Ms. Pariani, who grew up in a devoutly Christian household in Dallas, with parents who divorced in her 20s, graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in art history before moving to California in 2005.
As their relationship escalated into full-blown love, each woman struggled with the seriousness of the situation. In January 2020, after Ms. Pariani had divorced her husband, Ms. Schatz finally admitted to herself, and soon to her husband and two children, that her heart and future were with Ms. Pariani exclusively.
Over the next few years, the couple weathered the pandemic along with many changes, including grief after the dissolution of their marriages; the building and blending of their new family; and the prolonged illness and passing of Ms. Pariani’s mother. There were doubts, they said, but through the challenges the path became clear.
[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]
“Kate has an incredible brain full of facts,” Ms. Pariani said. “She has given me so much strength and made me better, and bolder.”
“Lauren is smart, sexy, thoughtful and fiercely protective,” Ms. Schatz said. “With her, I feel fully seen.”
In January 2022, Ms. Schatz made the first move toward marriage with one of several proposals. On a couple’s getaway to Joshua Tree National Park, Ms. Schatz produced a ring with five sapphires representing the family unit to an ecstatic Ms. Pariani.
Weeks later, Ms. Pariani orchestrated an elaborate bicycle-powered scavenger hunt for Ms. Schatz. The final stop was the elementary schoolyard where they had met, where Ms. Pariani waited with a diamond ring and their children. Still another proposal came from the children who, with help, created a family proposal by donning shirts that read “She said yes, so did she.”
On June 22, the couple wed at Boon Hotel + Spa in Guerneville, Calif. Julia Mayer, a friend of the couple and a Universal Life minister, officiated before 100 guests.
Escorted by their children, the women, surrounded by redwood trees, stood before an inverted triangle covered in bright flowers, and exchanged deeply personal, and sometimes political vows in which they invoked the long struggle for same-sex marriage and current challenges to L.G.B.T.Q. rights. An empty chair covered in marigolds stood in tribute for Ms. Pariani’s mother.
During the ceremony guests verbally agreed to support both the marriage and the “protection of queer unions.” Afterward, celebrants danced until the community’s noise curfew shut down the music, but then spontaneously burst into a singalong of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
“I always wanted to be a lesbian when I grew up,” Ms. Schatz said with a laugh. “But it took me some time to get there.”