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PHOTOS: 'Love is Love' documents same-sex relationships in Alaska (updated)

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  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 14, 2013

Update: The Love is Love Kickstarter campaign has exceeded its initial goal of $25,000 and just topped its stretch goal of $30,000 hours before its Valentine's Day deadline. Anchorage photographers Mitch Kitter and Shalem Matthew will head to the Lower 48 to photograph gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples, showing the diversity of love throughout the country.

According to Kitter, one of the original Alaska subjects came from a family that didn't condone her sexual orientation and had not accepted her six-year relationship with her partner. After seeing their photos in Alaska Dispatch, her dad called his daughter and said, "I don't understand it, and I don't know why I haven't seen it before, but I see love in the photo of you two." He is now planning on attending his daughter's wedding this summer.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Modern love and family are redefined yet familiar in the photo project "Love is Love," which documents same-sex couples in love. The series was born out of a request from a lesbian couple who had been turned down for an engagement session by several photographers. From that single portrait sitting, Propaganda AK and Shalem Photography photo studios were inspired to capture the vitality and passion of LGBT couples in Alaska.

Photographers and studio owners Shalem Matthew and Mitch Kitter, partners themselves, decided they would document same-sex couples to help people understand that love is the same for everyone. They put out a call on Facebook for same-sex couples who wanted their portraits taken, and the response was tremendous. They heard back from a diverse range of couples with different political, cultural and educational backgrounds. From high schoolers to couples in 30-year relationships, all of the volunteers wanted to acknowledge their love to the world.

The project took Matthew and Kitter a year to shoot, with couples traveling to Anchorage from as far away as Nome and Fairbanks to paint a picture of what same-sex love looks like in Alaska. And surprisingly -- or not -- it looks very similar to heterosexual couples' love lives. They fall in love, raise children, argue over the dirty dishes, and grow old together.

The project is an artistic endeavor, but its creators hope to inspire discussion about freedom to marry. The series as a whole is a reminder that there are numerous same-sex couples in committed relationships in Alaska who would like their commitment to be acknowledged by the state. The U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act this summer had an impact that was felt nationwide. Same-sex couples who marry in states where it's legal can now come home and partake in many of the same benefits given to heterosexual couples. But that doesn't reach far enough for many same-sex couples who live in Alaska want to marry in the state. Kitter and Matthew, who are planning their wedding for June 2014, have decided to go to Lake Tahoe for their ceremony. Same-sex marriage is legal in the state of California.

"What was most important was the big, great promise to one another," Kitter said.

He and Matthew are now bringing the project to the Lower 48, to other states that "aren't so accepting of same-sex marriage," Kitter said. Alabama, Texas, Wyoming and Montana are all on the itinerary. The couple is planning a Kickstarter campaign to pay for lodging and fuel. The plan is to shoot about 40 couples to continue the discussion about love equality for all.

Contact Tara Young at tara(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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