12 photos of JaLissa and Janell beginning their journey together in Washington, D.C.
December 18, 2012
Three years ago today, Adrian Fenty, mayor of the District of Columbia, signed the freedom to marry into law in Washington, D.C. Today, we're celebrating the anniversary by sharing twelve beautiful wedding photos from one of the hundreds of loving same-sex couples who have married since the law took effect in March 2010 - JaLissa and Janell Coffee-Sterrett.
JaLissa and Janell married on September 10, 2011 in Washington, D.C., where they now live and work as educators. The women met at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Club Day on the Mall, a regular start-of-semester event at the university where student organizations could share information and recruit new members. Janell was there representing a praise dance group, where members express religion and faith through dance, and JaLissa was interested. She had been involved in a similar organization in her hometown, and she was excited to stay involved with it in school.
They became fast friends after spending time together at a house-warming party for Janell and her college roommates in Fall of 2006. "She and I were glued to each other that night," JaLissa said. "We talked until five o'clock in the morning, and then that next day, we talked from 10 o'clock in the morning through the rest of the day." At the time, Janell had not yet accepted that she was a lesbian. "I had committed to completely igorning it and praying it away," she said. "I was doing my very best to 'fight the urge' until Jo came along - and obviously, my fight was not successful (thank God)."
JaLissa and Janell bonded over the fact that they are both "Preacher's Kids" with very religious, very conservative families. "That presented its share of challenges," JaLissa said. "It became increasingly difficult when we realized we were falling in love - and neither of us had come out of the closet to family or friends." JaLissa added, "That was the struggle: We struggled with what we were taught and what we believed and what we felt. We had a very difficult journey making peace with who we thought we were and the God that we loved."
Janell graduated from Xavier in 2008, and JaLissa graduated the next year, by which time she had come out to her parents and told them that she was in love with Janell. "That was when were were like, 'This is us. We're going to be together forever,'" JaLissa said. In December of 2009, Janell proposed to JaLissa, slipping a ring on her finger and whispering three words: "Welcome to Forever."
The ceremony was held at Washington, D.C.'s Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, to which both Janell and JaLissa belong. The couple explained that the church helped them come to terms with their sexuality and understand that being lesbians didn't exclude them from their faith. Although the Baptist denomination is not traditionally accepting or affirming, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ is well known for speaking out against discrimination. "They gave us a place to love the God that we knew and still be spiritual, while also being free to love who we love and not have any feeling of condemnation or that we were wrong or living in sin," JaLissa said.
Instead of being "given away" or having someone walk them down the aisle, Janell and JaLissa created their own ritual. They started at opposite ends of the church and walked separately to the center of the aisle, and then to the altar together. Their program for the ceremony explained, "As we begin our walk with each other on this journey, we start here, meeting in the middle and walking together to say our vows."
The women were committed to incorporating as many overtones of social justice and fairness as possible into their ceremony. That's partly why they asked one of their pastors from the church, Dr. Christine Y. Wiley, to perform their wedding. Dr. Wiley, and many of the pastors at Covenant Baptist, have worked hard to lend a voice to people of faith who support the freedom to marry. They participated in the Vote For Question 6 campaign in Maryland this fall, and they have been committed to peace and equality for many years.
A true 21st Century experience, JaLissa and Janell read their vows from their iPhones, declaring their love and commitment to each other and reading all of the reasons they will support each other for the rest of their lives.
They used a Unity Sand tradition to symbolize their lives coming together. "We had two different colors, and we poured the sand into a jar, and they blended together into each other, a sign of us merging our lives," JaLissa said. The jar currently sits in their home, a reminder of their wonderful day.
JaLissa and Jannell are thankful that they could marry in Washington, D.C., the place where they've made their home, and they're thankful they could celebrate their reception at Busboys and Poets in the city, another place that spoke to their values of social justice. "That venue is a representation of social justice, peace, love, and progress," Janell explained. "Those are all things that Jo and I have committed ourselves to."
"A lot of people say that marriage is just a piece of paper," JaLissa said. "But for us, to be legally married has made me feel legit. Normal. Equal." The women know that marriage matters - and they wish that all same-sex couples across the country could share in the joys and happiness that their wedding day brought them. "We're now on our journey figuring out the best way to leave our footprint in the hearts and lives of others, and in the world as a whole," Janell said. "We're passionate about peace. We're passionate about progress. We're passionate about liberty and justice for all."
Today, we thank Washington, D.C. for standing up for all families by passing the freedom to marry so that loving and committed couples in the district - including Janell and JaLissa - can feel their relationships respected and be afforded the full liberty and justice that all couples deserve.
All photos courtesy of the amazing Kyu Lee of Kyu Lee Photography