OnLove: After Years of Friendship, Melody Barnes and Marland Buckner Said 'I Do'

Melody Barnes, President Obama's domestic policy adviser, wed Marland Buckner, former chief of staff to Rep. Harold Ford Jr., on June 13 at the People's Congregational United Church of Christ. The ceremony was followed by a reception at the Mellon Auditorium.
By Ellen McCarthy
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 21, 2009

We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.
To choose, renounce,
this, or that --
call it a council between equals
call it love.
-- Alice Walker, "Beyond What"

The time for conforming, if there ever was one, had passed. Melody Barnes, at 40, had become too much herself to engage in shape-shifting for the sake of romance.

Besides, she was doing just fine. More than that -- she was a revered political staffer who spent nearly a decade as senior counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy, a woman who painted watercolors and took acting classes in her spare time, whose curiosity about the world had only grown over the years. She was a woman who would come to serve as President Obama's domestic policy adviser, who never married but had a life rich with family and friends.

Among those many friends was Marland Buckner. They met in the late 1990s, when Buckner worked as chief of staff to Rep. Harold Ford Jr., and within a few years wound up in the same tightknit social circle of political types who'd often gather for barbecues, weekend trips and movie nights.

"I always remember thinking, when we got together, 'What a nice person,' " Barnes says of the man she married June 13 in front of a crowd that included Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett. "He was always the one who made sure everything was organized, and would make sure no one was stuck in the kitchen doing dishes."

But at the time, she didn't think much more than that. Nice guy. Just a friend.

When the group met in Annapolis for crabs by the bay on Labor Day weekend in 2007, Buckner was seated by Barnes, whom he'd known well for three years by then. Then he reached for a crab out of her pile.

"I was hungry . . . so I figured, 'I'll help myself,' " recalls Buckner, 42, who worked as a lobbyist for Microsoft before opening his own firm in February 2008. "And she -- well, there's really no other way to put this -- she threatened to stab me. With her knife."

"And I meant it," Barnes chimes in during a rare afternoon off from the White House.

"That was the spark," says Canadian-born Buckner, who was divorced in 2004. "She's this very gentle, kind person . . . but the look on her face when she said she would cut me demonstrated there was clearly more going on than what the wider world would've given me to understand."

He asked if they could have dinner, just the two of them.

A few weeks later, they sat across from each other at Brasserie Beck, talking for hours in a way they never had before, about their families, their faiths, their shared desire to make some positive impact on society.

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