When same-sex partners began lining up demanding the right to marry in San Francisco last month, Kelli and Rosie O'Donnell joined in.
Watch Barbara Walters' full report Friday on 20/20 at 10 p.m.
So what is it like to be with arguably the most famous lesbian in the world?
"Well, I have to say that in the beginning when I met her, I felt like … my life had been thrown into some weird tornado," Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell told Barbara Walters. "And all of a sudden this life walks in, and it is a big life. And it was overwhelming … but … I'm crazy about her. So I feel like … that's the reward I get."
And she proclaimed that love at San Francisco's City Hall last month when the pair joined the more than 4000 gay and lesbian couples to visit the California city so far in the battle for same-sex marriage. In turn, opponents have fired back, including President Bush who called for a constitutional amendment banning the practice.
Two days later Rosie, 41, and her longtime partner Kelli, 36, defiantly answered the president.
"I think it created more of a sense of immediacy to get it done," Kelli
told Barbara Walters. "I felt angry, and I felt like we needed to take a stand."
Even before the wedding, they were together for six years, and are raising a family in the New York suburbs and had been waiting for the legalization of same-sex marriage to take the plunge.
For Kelli, the trip down the aisle was a far cry from her Louisiana
upbringing with a conservative family who were in denial about her
sexual preference until recently.
Her wedding drew headlines and supporters while giving the pair peace of mind. "And even though I had always felt that inside my soul, to hear it validated by society, even though there are some people who are upset about it … it meant everything to me," said Rosie.
And the wedding further establishes the pair, already raising four children. Parker, 8, Chelsea, 6, and Blake 4 were adopted by Rosie. Then in 2002 Kelli gave birth through artificial insemination to Vivi.
The kids were not shocked by the wedding, according to Rosie they "already thought" they were married.
Kelli Attempts to Fit In
The pair met on the set of Rosie's daytime talk show after what were years of a hidden identity for Kelly.
She was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., attending church and Bible class, where they taught that homosexuality was wrong.
Kelli says she "always knew" she was gay, something her mother and stepfather refused to believe. So she lied about her true identity through high school — even attending a debutante ball.
"I did. I had a debutante coming out party, where you're sort of
paraded around for the … the men to see who the wives would be that
are available in the town. And you know, I knew that I was gay
then," said Kelli.
Then, while in college, Kelli's mother discovered a letter she wrote and concluded that her daughter was gay. Her parents' solution was that Kelli should go into therapy leading her to a program called Homosexuals Anonymous.
"And it's supposed to cure you of your homosexuality. So I was obviously an unsuccessful graduate," said Kelli.
Blind Date With Rosie
After college Kelli made her way to New York, meeting Rosie when she took her parents to see the star's hugely successful daytime talk show.
They were invited backstage and met the host. "And two weeks later a mutual friend of ours called and asked if we ... if I would go on a blind date with her," said Kelli.
Although the public knew nothing, a few months later Kelli and Rosie
were in a committed relationship. Then in 1998 the National Enquirer
broke the story that Rosie had a lover. Not only was Rosie outed, so was Kelli, and at last, her parents knew the truth.
And if anyone could convince her parents to accept Kelli's sexual
preference — Rosie was up for the job.
"I went down to New Orleans and I asked them to go to dinner," said
Rosie. "And I said here's the deal. I'm in love with your daughter,
she's in love with me. I have two children, we plan on having more.
We're going to be together the rest of our lives.
"I understand you have a problem with her being gay but with all due
respect, you'll either respect us and we will respect you back or we
can't participate because I have children. I'm raising children and
teaching tolerance and love and acceptance and I was not going to banish them from my life because they're born-again Christians, nor did I expect them to banish me from their life because I'm gay," said Rosie.
"Ro comes on like a Mack truck, when she wants something, or when she
decides this is the way it's gonna be, you really … have to be prepared
for it. And we were very unprepared." said Kelli's mother, Melanie Safer.
Kelli said while her parents tried to negotiate her future, encouraging the pair to be neighbors and still date men, Rosie pushed them to accept the truth.
"Ro stood there and … and wouldn't accept anything else but yes," said Kelli. "Take it or leave it, and they took it."
Now Kelli said her parents are around "all the time" and are better
grandparents than she could have imagined .
"If we could say one thing … about having a homosexual child in your
family, it would be for parents to love that child. To love that child
and love that child's partner. Because that's the most important thing
that you can do and accept them in your home, and love 'em," said
From Marriage to Biz Partners
The wedding comes two years after Rosie walked away from her hugely successful daytime talk show in order to be a full-time mother .
For Rosie the last year has been challenging. In a bitter breach of contract trial, Rosie and the publisher of her now defunct magazine each sued the other for millions. In the end, the case was dismissed.
Also dismissed was the Broadway show Taboo based on the life of Boy George which Rosie produced losing a $10 million investment before the closing. Rosie insists no one cry for her since her net worth is estimated to be more than $100 million.
Her latest project is an investment in a new business Kelli is helping to run called R Family Vacations. They're tapping into the $54 billion gay travel industry offering vacations like a cruise for gay couples, their children and extended families. The first cruise sails in July. (For more information: www.rfamilyvacations.com)
Kelli now accepts that she, like Rosie, has become a public figure not only as an example of gay marriage but in the gay family movement saying it brings a sense of "normalcy" to it all.
"I also think it brings a face to what is happening instead of like you know, all those gays out there getting married," said Kelli. "It's like you know what? That's me and that's … that's my partner and these are my kids. And we're raising happy, healthy children."
So who gets to be called "wife?"
"She calls me her partner. I call her my part … I don't think there
really is a great word," said Kelli. "I feel like she is my other half. She's my puzzle piece." And according to Kelli, it's a perfect fit. "I'm in this for good. You know, I … I can't I mean imagine life … life without her."