“I wanted to be so careful that none of our handfasting looked like a straight wedding, and that’s the only regret about the handfasting that I still have,” Gail recalls. “We were trying to be considerate,” says Deb. “It’s almost like an apologist thing that happened.” Members on both sides of their family were less than supportive of their relationship, and at the time, marriage rights for LGBT couples didn’t seem like it would be a possibility for decades. A lot of stress revolved around how to appease people, to coax them into coming to help the couple celebrate their union. Invitations were sent out with three options for RSVP: one to accept the invitation, one to reject, and one to come for only the reception so the guest wouldn’t have to see them kiss. The family members who would not have come ended up not showing up anyway, and they got at least one return with a message attached informing them they would burn in hell, but they pressed on.
To continue the trend of having a non-wedding wedding, they opted out of having a cake, preferring a sweet table instead, another big regret. Gail chose to wear a flowing brown dress with witchy sleeves, instead of a white gown. Deb wore a yellow tartan kilt.
The ceremony was held on December 22, 1999, the winter solstice. Before it began, they had a harpist and cocktail hour. The service started at 6:31, so all hands on the clock would be facing up. Over 130 guests arrived for the ceremony, which was performed by two of their good friends, Crystal and Jake, co-dictators of the Chicago SLUTS. They lit a unity candle and bound their hands together, an essential part of the handfasting tradition, and said their carefully prepared vows.
Afterward, they had a monumental spread of food, including smoked trout, a roasted suckling pig, and a turducken, which Deb describes as, “Dry, dry, dry, dry, dry.” “My mother and brother cooked the shit out of it,” Gail responds with a smirk. While normally not the most outgoing, on that night, Deb was gregarious and even boisterous. She sat at the head of the head of the wedding table making occasional, heartfelt toasts, and generally the guests had a wonderful time. Each guest table had its own disposable camera, and the celebrants got into documenting the action as it progressed.
Much dancing was done that evening. Gail’s youngest daughter Brycee, a stunning beauty, danced all night, her infectious footwork enticing others to the floor. Deb’s mother cried quite a bit, saying that, while she didn’t understand, she was happy for them. Gail’s mother, on the other hand, showed up wearing a tuxedo (foisted upon her by Gail’s gay younger brother) and declared with her southern drawl, “Now, ya’ll don’t go telling anyone I’m looking for a woman, ’cause I’m not!” Gail’s oldest grandchildren, Morgan and Leah, had been having a discussion on whether or not Deb was a boy for some time. Leah stated that Deb must be a boy, because they were getting married. “Duh, Leah,” Morgan responded, “they’re gay!”
After the reception, Gail’s entire family stayed in their apartment. Sleeping bags were strewn all around their living room, with wedding gifts piled on their table. Gail’s mother slept on the couch, making sure to keep her mouth closed so the cats wouldn’t steal her spirit while she slept.
Unable to sleep from the excitement, Deb and Gail stayed up late into the night facing one another on their bed opening presents. Deb would tiptoe through the obstacle course of sleeping relatives to gather up a stack of presents from their stash and quietly make her way back to their room. Once inside, they carefully unwrapped each one, giggling, analyzing, and admiring. “We didn’t expect gifts or anything, so all the gifts were very thought-out and heartfelt kind of little things. Everything was perfect,” recounts Gail. “Yeah,” says Deb in wistful tones. “Yeah.”
All-in-all, it was a lovely evening, and a memory they treasure. Finally married, emotionally and religiously, if not legally, the couple started the next phase of their lives, one which, unfortunately, would test their bond repeatedly, past any level of endurance either of them thought they were capable of.
Click here for Part 2 to read about how they got custody of Mollie and how parenting changed their lives forever.