“The contest was a catalyst,” Tonya says. “It took us out of our comfort zone.”
“It gave us a platform to speak about the importance of marriage equality,” Amy adds. “What it means to us and our family.”
In February, when Tonya realized that their 9-year-old son, Leo, would have his spring break the same week as the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage, the couple decided to spend their vacation in Washington. Then they decided to throw their own wedding — with just a few thousand guests and the nation’s highest court as a backdrop for their wedding photos.
Tonya was working in communications at Purdue University when she met Amy, who was on staff in the IT department. They had friends in common and occasionally wound up at the same gatherings. At a party in the early summer of 1998, they chatted at length, and Tonya, a divorced single mom, made an impression.
“I thought she was adorable,” Amy remembers. “And there was just an instant rapport and connection. I just thought she was a really cool chick and she had her stuff together.”
Both women were recently out of relationships. They began spending time together with Jesse, Tonya’s 5-year-old son from a previous marriage, and Amy’s young niece and nephew. At first it was platonic — they offered friendship and a support system for each other.
But when they spent a late-summer weekend together at Lilith Fair, a festival featuring female musicians, something shifted. “That’s when things started turning and being a little more romantic,” Tonya said. “We just had such a great time there, connecting, hanging out, listening to the music.”
They kissed that weekend and were soon spending all their free time together. The pair moved into a small two-bedroom house near a park and an ice cream shop. Sports were never Tonya’s strong suit — she had a tendency to accidently hit Jesse with the ball while trying to play catch — so Amy took charge of athletic endeavors. And while Tonya is a multitasking force of nature, Amy, steady and dependable, found with the aid of a strong cup of coffee she could usually keep up. From the beginning, it felt permanent.
“Not that we didn’t have our trial or tribulations, but there’s always been a sense that I don’t have to worry about it ending or her going anywhere,” Amy says. “I just know that she’s going to be there for me and we’re going to go through things together.”
Their families were supportive, and for five years they were a happy trio until Amy, now 48, started to hear her own biological clock ticking. In 2003, she gave birth to Leo.
Tonya became president of the parent-teacher association, Amy coached Leo’s baseball and basketball teams, and together they hosted team dinners before Jesse’s cross-country meets. No one in their Lafayette community seemed bothered by the fact that they were a same-sex couple.
“We’re not special. We’re average Americans mowing our lawns and taking our kids to practices and stuff — that’s the way I’ve always approached it,” Tonya says. “I assume you’re not going to have an issue, and so far that seems to work well. Because if I’m confident and comfortable with who I am, that’s going to help you be more comfortable.”
But their profile was raised when they entered the wedding contest, and since then the couple has become active in the fight for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“We kind of have to represent,” Amy says. “We want Leo to be proud of his family, so we have to model that for him.”
After deciding to come to Washington — in part because Leo is a history buff — Tonya had the idea of getting married while they were in town. “We thought, ‘How amazing to do it in the nation’s capital and have it recognized formally.’ It kind of seals what we know is true between us.”
Jesse is away at college, so Amy, Tonya and Leo drove to Washington the weekend before the oral arguments. After a long-promised swim in their hotel’s indoor pool, Leo put on a jacket and gave a speech at a candlelight vigil for same-sex marriage supporters gathered near the Supreme Court the night before the first hearing.
“My parents weren’t allowed to get married. I took it as an insult,” he said. “But finally my parents are getting their freedom. Tomorrow morning my parents are getting married. I knew it. I always knew love would conquer hate. For there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Leo stood alongside his moms the next day, March 26, as they exchanged vows in a park across from the Supreme Court. Behind them, thousands of protesters on both sides cheered, argued and danced.
“I will continue to honor and “obey” you all the days of my life,” Amy said, raising her hands into quotation marks. “Because with Tonya, all things are possible.”
When they kissed, a gathering crowd of onlookers shouted in celebration.