December 16, 2012 at 5:31am
"Oh Happy Day."
This was the song pianist Steve Smith performed to begin the wedding of John McCluskey and Rudy Henry the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 15 at First United Methodist Church in Tacoma.
And Oh what a happy day it was. Complete with family, friends, dignitaries and the press.
After being a couple for nearly 53 years, McCluskey, 76, and Henry, 78, were first in line to receive a marriage license in Pierce County Thursday, Dec. 6. Marriage licenses became available that day after state Referendum 74 was certified.
McCluskey and Henry wore matching tuxedos with pink accents at their wedding - Henry confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke.
Rev. David Alger and Mayor Marilyn Strickland officiated the ceremony, which began with a long moment of silent prayer for the people of Newtown, Conn. dealing with the aftermath of the shooting Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"A marriage must not be entered carelessly or with selfish motives, but responsibly and prayerfully, and it is my understanding that 53 years together should be adequate preparation," said Rev. David Alger to a congregation of that erupted into laughter.
"We give our blessing, and promise our love and support," said Mayor Strickland with the congregation repeating the words.
Rings were exchanged. A kiss sealed the deal. And applause erupted in the church.
The ceremony ended with a flash mob dance of happiness in the church's foyer.
Afterward, a reception was held in the church's basement, thanks to Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Broadway Center Deputy Director Benjii Bittle, Rainbow Center Executive Director Michelle Douglas and others.
Councilman Mello met McCluskey and Henry in 2001 when he was fresh out of college, working on his first campaign in Tacoma for then candidate Mayor Bill Baarsma. Then, he worked with the two on the Tacoma United For Fairness Campaign to defend Tacoma's anti-discrimination ordinance.
"John and Rudy are politically active and have worked on LGBT civil rights for decades," says Mello. "Community members like myself and about a dozen others who were very active on R74 in Tacoma produced the wedding for them as a way to say thanks. After R74 passed, a group of us were reflecting on what we should do next and how we celebrate and keep the spirit alive. Much of it was driven by Laurie and Michelle, and a core group that helped lead 74 and our desire to make sure John and Rudy had the joy of a proper wedding before too much time passed us by."
Washingtonians overwhelmingly approved Referendum 74 on Election Day by a margin of 7.4 percent. This past week of marriages has been a long time coming for many couples.
"Long ago I felt sad to think that, unlike my siblings, I would never experience marriage," said John McCluskey in a statement released earlier in the month. "Although we kind of felt married after half a century, it doesn't compare to the joy we feel at finally having our relationship acknowledged by our community. My parents must be looking down and high-fiving."
LeRoy Jewelers donated the wedding rings — kind of. McCluskey and Henry were awarded the rings after receiving the most votes during an annual ring giveaway contest held at LeRoy's holiday party.
The delicious food was coordinated by Bittle with the help of Adriatic Grill, Cornina Bakery, Jonz Catering and Old Milwaukee Café & Dessert Company.
"It's a magnificent day," said Bittle. "I'm thrilled to be involved."
Indeed it was magnificent.
Off duty rules.
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