We Hadn't Counted on Charlottesville

By, Meridith Wolnick

lesbian couple, newly wed.

I did not imagine that I would wake up on a completely unremarkable Monday in October and plunge headlong into a wedding. In fact, I thought I would be married in the summer, maybe, if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. I would have planned a wedding, paired flowers with a dress, and invited friends and family to taste cake and toast our victory on a steamy Virginia night. Instead, my wife and I got the news in a tweet at 10am on October 9th: “Get to the courthouse! Marriage in VA legal!”

The fragility of marriage equality means we never considered waiting for a planned ceremony. As we sent happy messages and took the day off work, I felt the bittersweet sadness that comes with losing something you never really had. Some couples take a leisurely year to plan a wedding; we couldn’t afford to take a day, lest a new stay be imposed by the Court. While it would feel lonely to celebrate a landmark civil rights decision without all of our friends, we agreed it was worth it and we left for the city courthouse.

We hadn’t counted on Charlottesville. Our four-year-old daughter, Ruby, needed a dress so we stopped to buy one on the way. At the checkout we mentioned we were on our way to get married and, instead of a confused look—or worse, distaste—we got heartfelt congratulations and many well wishes. At the courthouse, we found ourselves surrounded by the community and other families like ours: two moms, two dads, their kids, waiting for the moment when marriage in Virginia would be legal. The lobby crowded with joyful people shaking hands and hugging in celebration. Our acquaintances transformed into friends, and we felt a little less lonely.

A local bakery donated a cake to the newlyweds. The Clerk of the Court gave us a hug and took our photo with our certificate. Local photographer Robert Radifera donated his time to photograph the newlyweds. The press was there in full, including the journalists and photographers that had followed our family’s journey through two years of rallies and court decisions. It felt right to have them there in celebration. They had, my wife and I agreed, watched our daughter grow up.

We weren’t the first couple to get married. In fact, we applauded several marriages before ours, congratulating our friends and tossing birdseed. The courthouse slowly emptied and the hours dragged on while our families made the journey from the edges of Virginia. But then our co-workers appeared bearing champagne, a veil, sandwiches, and a balsa-wood bridal bouquet. Robert came back, bringing not just his camera, but his wife and daughters, acquaintances at the time and now friends. Our daughter shrieked with joy to see her music teachers, Dave and Estela of Blue Ridge Music Together, arrive with a guitar. Journalists and photographers from the Daily Progress and the Cville Weekly returned, not as press, but as our welcome guests. The Sheriff married us in the late afternoon on the steps of the courthouse and our friends serenaded us with “We Are the Champions.”

It’s not how I would have planned a wedding, but I hadn’t figured on Charlottesville and the tremendous outpouring of support from our community. The day was full of gifts, from the Supreme Court and the state, from the happy honking and cheering from strangers driving past, and from our friends and their joy in this victory. In the end, it’s exactly the wedding I dreamed of.

Meridith Wolnick is a librarian at the University of Virginia. She and her family live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Meridith Wolnick