Most kids do not have the opportunity to see their parents get married. However, my two moms and I have always done things a bit different.
For most of my childhood I believed my parents were married. Why shouldn’t they have been? All my others friends’ parents were married so it only made sense that mine should be too. I had even seen pictures of them in a church, wearing fancy dresses and feeding each other cake, so that must have been their wedding. When my parents, along with several other couples, went to San Francisco in 2008 and got married in City Hall, I still did not make the connection that the ceremony taking place was a big deal. They had been together all my life, we lived together as a family, why did this one ceremony make a difference? It was not until a few years later, and when were chosen to be plaintiffs in the Bostic v. Rainey case, did I finally begin to understand the importance of marriage for my parents.
When my parents first joined the case, I did not realize the long journey we had ahead of us. A road filled with press conferences and interviews, cameras and angry protestors, hearings and happy times was laid out in front of us. Despite the daunting path that lay ahead, my parents and I persevered through the challenges and finally arrived at the finish line, marriage equality in the state of Virginia.
The day was October 6, 2014, and it started out just as any other day. For the past few weeks, we had been waiting on the edge of our seats for the decision of the Supreme Court on whether to grant our case certiorari. I was in my AP photography class when I took out my phone to check for any texts. Lo and behold, on my screen was a message from my mother saying, “We won!” At first I was rather confused by this statement, seeing as how the 4th Circuit decision had come out in July. Why was she telling me this again? Did she have a sudden moment of nostalgia and felt a need to share?
It was not until she followed the previous text with another that I realized what was really happening. “Supreme Court denied cert on all cases! Previous ruling stands! Marriage equality in Virginia!” For a moment I was quite unsure what I was supposed to do. The text was then followed by another with my mother telling me she was going to contact the school to have me taken out of class so I could join the national press conference call. A few short minutes later, the office staff delivered a note to me and I went to the office where I would join in on the conference call. I quickly made my statement when the call began and then sat and waited patiently for 45 minutes until the call came to a close. However, the real excitement of the day was yet to come.
Even with little time and no preparation, a ceremony was planned to renew my mothers’ marriage vows. When I arrived home after school, I was greeted by two parents rushing to get dressed and telling me to dress up too. Soon we were out the door and driving down to the John Marshall Courthouse where the ceremony would be held. There was a flurry of attention as soon as we arrived, with various people coming up to chat with us including Congressman Bobby Scott and state Sen. Donald McEachin. We even got a personal call of congratulations from our governor, Terry McAuliffe and got the chance to talk with our good friends and co-plaintiffs, Tim Bostic and Tony London.
Throughout the whole day, other same-sex couples had been married at the same spot. My parents’ renewal of vows was going to be a little different though, as the attorney general of Virginia, Mark Herring, would be presiding. When the time finally came, we made a few quick statements to the press gathered before the actual ceremony began. I remember making a joke about how Virginia was finally for ALL lovers. To recall what I was feeling at the moment is challenging. The culmination of all the work over the past year was before me and the air was already filled with emotion. As I stood there, I thought of what this meant to our family and all the families who were affected by this amazing day.
I thought of how much my moms love each other and how moving it is to see two people promise to love each other forever. It was the combination of these feelings that made me begin to cry during the ceremony. Once the tears started, I couldn’t stop or hold back. These were my moms standing there. They love each other, they worked so hard on this, and it meant so much to them and so many other people. All at once, to my surprise, I was overcome with tears of joy. Those tears were followed by smiles and pictures, just like any other wedding. Our big year of working for marriage equality ended exactly as it should have, with a wedding full of jokes, and tears and joy. I hope the Supreme Court gives the whole country what it gave to us that great day.
Emily Schall-Townley is the daughter of Mary Townley and Carol Schall, two of the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit that successfully challenged Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.