Sinjoyla Townsend got her wish Tuesday in the nation’s capital.
“I don’t have a political platform, I just wanted to marry Angel — that’s all I wanted to do, and I got to do that,” she said, beaming at a gaggle of reporters and clutching the hand of her new spouse, Angelisa Young, shortly after they married.
Townsend and Young (pictured at right), one of the first same-sex couples to wed in Washington, D.C., had been partners for 12 years, had already celebrated a commitment ceremony, but until March 9 had been denied the right to join their lives in vows that were legally recognized by the District of Columbia.
“We were partners before now — ‘partners’ was left up to anybody’s interpretation of what partners were,” Young explained. “But now that we say we’re married, anywhere in the universe we go, we say we’re married, everybody understands.”
Young added that it had been “frightening” to think that she wouldn’t have been able to speak on behalf of Townsend if, for instance, she had gotten sick and been hospitalized.
Townsend and Young were one of three gay couples — all people of color — who married in back-to-back ceremonies held at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters. Marriages also took place at the D.C. Superior Court house and All Souls Unitarian Church
Michael Crawford, former cochair of D.C. for Marriage and a prominent voice for equality in both the LGBT and African-American communities, said it was “especially gratifying” that many of the first couples to marry were people of color since the district is majority African-American.
“This really does help to put the nail in the coffin that African-American people won’t support gay people being able to marry,” Crawford said.
Last-ditch efforts to put a stay on the ceremonies were made by Bishop Harry Jackson and his supporters, who argued that the issue should be put to a referendum. But last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the opportunity to intervene.
Though much has been reported about the role that religion plays in demonizing gays and lesbians, Crawford said the effects have been overstated.
“I think the role that it’s playing is actually being overestimated,” he said. “What we’ve seen here in D.C. is that if we actually talk to people face to face and we ask for support from people of faith, that we can get it.”
In fact, one of the nearly 150 attendees of the ceremonies played a lead role in organizing D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality. The Reverend Cedric Harmon said support for the organization was a logical outgrowth of the Washington Interfaith Network, which had collaborated in the past on issues like poverty, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS.
“These were clergy throughout all wards in the district who had worked together on various social justice issues before — so this was a natural progression for them,” Harmon said.
Harmon said that when he first started building support for D.C. Clergy United in May 2009, the numbers went from 25 to 50 to over 150 clergy members in the span of just a few days. The organization now includes more than 250 clergy throughout the city.
“It was amazing,” he said, adding, “We need to send a message that now marriage equality is here, it’s not a threat to anyone. It simply will enhance the lives of families and couples throughout the city — so that everyone can live together in this community of the District of Columbia in a way that promotes family and love and a community sense.”
Certainly, an air of justice hung in the room as the ceremonies commenced.
Reginald Stanley wove that spirit into his vows to Rocky Galloway (pictured at right).
“Today, especially today, the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice,” he said, looking into Galloway’s eyes. “But today and every day the arc of my love is longer and bends toward you.”
Following the ceremony, Stanley was asked what their marriage might mean to their 15-month-old twin daughters, who had been carried down the aisle to witness the ceremony on either side of their fathers.
“My hope for them is that they will feel like their family is just like every other family in the District of Columbia,” he said. “It’s filled with love, it’s filled with equality, and fortunately, it’s filled with people who will watch out for them, who will stand up for rights, and will fight for what’s right in the world.”
It was sentiment that D.C. council member David Catania, who introduced the marriage legislation, promised would reach every corner of the country.
“As sure as we are standing here on this beautiful day in the District of Columbia with justice shining on us, it will shine over this whole nation. It will,” he said.
For more DC marriage pictures, check out the following pages.