"My wife! My wife! I love saying it," says Audrey Smaltz, the 78-year-old former Ebony fashion editor and model. Before meeting and falling in love with 61-year-old basketball champ Gail Marquis, who earned a silver medal in the sport at the 1976 Olympics, the idea of marrying a woman, or even dating one, would have seemed as far-fetched as Smaltz wearing cheap shoes or sweatpants in public. For the first six decades of her life, she dated men exclusively and had never even experienced a same-sex attraction. "But when Gail kissed me," Smaltz said, swooning, "I felt...Wow, my God, this is unbelievable."
The pair's first date, on May 1, 1999, came three months after Marquis spotted Smaltz at a Landmark Education event called "Stepping Up and Stepping Out." Marquis hoped the personal-development organization would shake off her shyness: "I was trying to get a little more comfortable in my own skin," Marquis said. "So, I went up and spoke with the lovely Audrey Smaltz."
She extended a platonic invitation for the two of them to get together outside of class. Smaltz, who has a ready laugh and a booming voice, accepted. Over the next few months a friendship formed, until Marquis got gutsy and decided to call Smaltz to make her lesbianism -- and intentions -- clear. "I said to myself, I better tell her I'm a lesbian, even if she's going to holler at me or slap my face, so I told her. Then I said, 'I'd like to take you out.' "
"What's that mean?" Smaltz replied.
"It means I'm going to pick you up and take you out. We'll get a chance to talk. Then, I'll take you back home."
"Are you going to pay for everything?" Smaltz asked.
"Yes," Marquis said. "It's a date."
Three months into their romance, Smaltz knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Marquis and proposed. Friends and family thought she'd lost it. "People were not accepting in the beginning," Smaltz said. "They'd say, 'Oh, Audrey, you're just going through a thing.' " Or, more cuttingly, " 'I don't want to speak to you anymore.' "
In another instance, a fellow Baptist railed, "How can you do this? It's against God."
"I heard it all," Smaltz said. In the end, though, all but one of her friends came around because, she says, "They see how happy we are. It's 1,000% romance." Besides, "I am still the Audrey Smaltz I have always been," she continued, slyly adding, "And I'm not a lesbian, I just married one!"
On November 11, 2011--"11/11/11!" as the ladies like to say -- Marquis and Smaltz exchanged vows before 100 of their closest family members, friends, and colleagues in New York City's lush haven, Central Park. Their wedding bands, designed by French jeweler Gerard Riveron, sparkle with 18 diamonds and are inscribed with the date of their "I do"s. The initials "LJ" are carved into Marquis's ring and "GG" into Smaltz's.
"LJ stands for 'Love, Juliet,' which is my nickname for Audrey," Marquis said, "and GG stands for 'Gentle Giant,' her pet name for me." Marquis stands a full 6 foot 1 to Smaltz's diminutive 6 foot.
Love and laughter seem to be the bedrock of their enduring friendship: "We laugh a lot! We don't take ourselves too seriously and never go to bed angry," Marquis said.
"We really enjoy each other," Smaltz said, "and we liked one another before we loved one another. Friends first," she emphasized, "that's the key."