On April 4th, 2009, Mary Heid tied the knot with her now-wife Karen Mapstone at a Victorian bed and breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada – right across the border from New York, where they resided at the time. Five years before gay marriage was made legal across the U.S. (and before most states too for that matter), they made the leap into blissful matrimony. It took a literal leap across the border to make it happen.
Mary and Karen currently live in Reno, Nevada, where they enjoy the comforts of a dry climate and a strong network of family and friends. Life hasn’t always been smooth sailing though. I recently had the chance to sit down with Mary, who is a close family friend and personal confidant of mine, and talk with her about her travails and experiences throughout life.
We began by discussing her wedding day – everything from the various styles of wedding dresses they considered, to the love and energy poured into their wedding vows. Over time, our conversation gradually drifted toward the current social climate in the U.S., and how things have changed for gay couples during her lifetime (and unfortunately in some cases, haven’t changed).
Sophie: Describe your wedding day – what was it like?
Mary: “I remember that the weather was cold – it was a chilly, windy spring day. The atmosphere was intimate, with 30 guests squeezed into the bed & breakfast, which we had rented for the weekend. Our parents, the minister, our best men & their families all stayed at the venue with us. We got married in the grand foyer next to a big fireplace, and there was a pianist playing as we stood around in the living room. Karen’s dad read a poem by Khalil Gibran, and overall it was pretty quiet and intimate. All of our siblings and their kids were there too, which was really nice.
We also had a professional photographer following us around, plus a close friend who also took pictures for us. She ended up making us a lovely wedding scrapbook, and it’s my favorite piece of memorabilia from that day.”
S: Did the atmosphere feel any different than at other weddings you’ve attended? Or was it pretty traditional?
Pictured: Jay Mapstone (Mary’s father-in-law), Karen Mapstone on the left, Mary Heid on the right
M: “It was different, but it was intentionally different. I was married twice before – a big Italian Catholic wedding and a country-themed pig roast, and we wanted this ceremony to reflect our personalities (which are both pretty laid back). We were paying for it ourselves, so we specifically had vegetarian food because we are vegetarian, and we had a limited amount of alcohol (although it was at a winery so we did have some wine).
A lot of thought went into the event, it was a very ‘thoughtful’ ceremony. We didn’t want to make anybody uncomfortable, but we still wanted to share our love for each other publicly. A lot of this revolved around our maturity, when you’re younger you’re like ‘we’re gay, we want to party,’ but we just wanted to take it easy.”
S: You mentioned earlier that most of your family attended, including your parents. How did your parents or in-laws feel when you first told them you were getting married to a woman?
Pictured: Family members, including Iris Mapstone – Karen’s mother
M: “The story leading up to the wedding is kind of cute. When I told Karen’s dad we were getting married, we were all at her parent’s house. We were really nervous – we’re gay, her parents are religious, and her father was an evangelical Protestant minister for a long time. We were scared.
Karen had never really overtly came out, she had never even said ‘hey I’m gay’ or anything, although it was understood and unspoken. We were really psyched when [her] father was happy for us, and glad do a reading; just in general, glad we asked him to be a part of our wedding. However, we didn’t ask him to marry us, because our best friend in Rochester is a minister in a Unitarian church, and she and her wife are our best friends.”
S: What’s something that jumps out at you when you think about that day?
M: “Reading the vows. Figuring out how to write great wedding vows was really hard, but it was worth the effort in the end. Since I knew we were going to do this interview earlier I prepared them in case you were curious – I’ll read them to you, they’re brief:
‘I promise to give you my unending love, trust, and devotion. To be true to you and to cherish you through hardships and happiness. To share my thoughts, hopes, fears, and dreams with you, to listen to you with compassion and speak to you with encouragement, to believe we will continue to grow as individuals and together. To live a life that will honor the vows we’ve spoken, and make you glad you have married me this day.’
We spent a lot of time with each other’s weaknesses, and we tried to overcome them.”
S: Those vows are very sweet, and it sounds like your wedding day turned out to be a really positive experience. Do you think that the US has progressed a lot in terms of gay marriage acceptance since your wedding? What about acceptance of gay couples in general?
M: “I think it has improved in both areas. We’ve been together twenty years, since 1997. it took us 11 years to get married because we didn’t want to merely have a commitment ceremony. We felt like that was not the equivalent of marriage. We were not going to acquiesce to what we thought was going to make other people comfortable. We didn’t want ‘different.’ That’s part of why it took so long.
Plus, there’s the fear and closeting of gay people that I sure hope is different now. I think that it is, I think that the younger generation is a little more comfortable and we as the older generation are more comfortable, with both gay and interracial couples. We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
S: Great point. However, there’s still a long way to go it seems. Has your marriage had any lasting effect on your relationships with friends or family members?
Pictured: Mary Heid’s sister, daughter & niece
M: “Yeah, it has actually had a big positive effect on everybody. The marriage, not the wedding itself. It has forced people to acknowledge that homosexuality is in their present life and that it’s not just some abstract concept anymore. They actually had to confront their feelings about it, and even though it’s all been internal (it’s not like we have family discussions about it), you can’t do that anymore – saying things like ‘marriage is only between a man and a woman.’ Hopefully, people have grown by that.
We’re super fortunate. So many friends have lost family – parents won’t speak to them, siblings won’t talk to them, one friend has a family member who mails them Christian ‘repent your sin’ cards at Christmas every year, many friends have friends as their chosen family now. A ton of gay people my age… there’s an awful lot of them in recovery. We drank a lot early on because we thought we were bad because society told us we didn’t fit. Drugs and alcohol were coping mechanisms.
There’s a lot of self-abusive behavior in our community due to family, and we were scared to death to come out to our family even though our families have been great and accepted us. We were still scared something bad was going to happen when we got married. Originally it was about hoping for acceptance rather than looking for joy, that was all we felt we could hope for.”
S: Did you think you’d ever get legally married when you first were together?
M: “Hmmm, no. In the beginning, marriage wasn’t on the radar – it was a bit of a pipe dream. Even as our relationship grew, when people started getting married, we thought ‘wow, we could do that. Would you want to do that? I think we should’ then we started having discussions.
First, there were civil unions, right away we said ‘no, we don’t want to do that, it’s half-assed,’ but then when it started to change to marriage, we thought ‘yes, we can have that.’ So no, originally it wasn’t even on the radar. When I was a young kid it wasn’t even on the radar that I could be a lesbian. I couldn’t entertain it, it wasn’t even in my vocabulary, which is probably why I got married twice to men.”
S: Do you have any advice for other gay couples looking to get married?
M: “Be brave, be true to yourself, be confident, be true to who you are. Go for what you want, don’t shortchange yourself, don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t think that you can’t have something. If a bakery doesn’t want to make you a cake, find one that will so you can celebrate your joy. Some bakeries still do this, when they find out it’s for a gay wedding. Surround yourself with people that love you, and let the haters hate somewhere else. Your wedding isn’t the time to change the world.”
S: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
M: “I’m 53 years old now, so hopefully now is a different time. I’ll be interested if this article even feels relevant now. It’ll be interesting to see what a 20-year-old couple says in response to questions like this.”
Mary has experienced a lot during her life. To be fair we all have, but not many of us have had to leave our country of birth just to legally marry the person we love. While things have improved drastically for gay couples even during our own lifetimes, the fight for total equality is still not over. More education, as well as open conversations with the people in our lives, will help though, and hopefully, stories like Mary’s will continue to encourage other families to accept and love their relatives regardless of their sexual orientation.
Sophie Darling is a wedding expert and community manager at WeddingDresses.com. Sophie is known in the industry as a professional who knows how to create the perfect wedding day without breaking the bank. When she’s not blogging about weddings & pinning wedding inspirations, she enjoys meeting her girlfriends over margaritas to discuss nonsense and unfulfilled romances.
From Canada With Love: An Interview on Gay Marriage & Life
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