CHAPEL HILL - Two brides were married in a traditional ceremony at United Church of Chapel Hill on Saturday.
In spite of the fact that both had her own notions about wedding details like gowns, flowers, cakes, rings, vows and honeymoons and both, like most brides to be, had girly inclinations about their dream wedding, Jenny Shultz, 31, and Shannon Thomas, 46, made it to the altar unscathed, with their relationship intact and with all that wedding stuff worked out.
Many couples opt to write their vows these days, but Shultz and Thomas found that everything they came up with was somehow already covered in traditional words like "for richer, for poorer, for better for worse."
"I wrote, like a book, all the same things already said in the traditional vows," Shultz said. "Finally, we both just laughed because we realized that the traditional vows had been working for years. They were tried and true.
"It may sound funny to say we are both brides and we are claiming tradition and making it applicable to two women instead of using different stuff, but what we're doing is seeking the sanctity of marriage for us. Shannon and Jenny, two people coming together."
Shultz, an associate pastor at United Church, said that when she was interviewed in 2009 for the position at the church, she planned to say that she and her partner would be moving to Chapel Hill and that she would be an openly gay female pastor. "What I found funny was that United Church was more concerned about my Baptist background than about my being gay," she said.
Shultz graduated from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, a school supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, not the Southern Baptist Convention. Thomas is the music minister at a Lutheran church in Raleigh, but she is also licensed to preach.
Inviting the families to the wedding was like drawing a line in the sand, Shultz said. The only parents at the wedding were Shultz's father and stepmom. "Our families have shown their support in any way they felt they could without compromising their own faith traditions," she said.
Shultz, who spent two weeks last summer in Germany and Italy with youth from the church, knew when she got back that she wanted to get married.
"We had talked about it before," she said, "but this time it was different because I went away and missed her so much and loved her so much. We were life partners already. We shared so much and wanted our relationship to be taken seriously. I wanted to say in front of the congregation this is the person I love.
"The state is trying to take something away from us," she said. "The law is the law, but nothing can take away the love shared by two people who want to be together. I was so excited when I knew we could do this and would not have to put it off. It was a dream, our opportunity, the time was right, and we both knew it meant for real this time. Our wedding would be public and wonderful."
This is not the first same-sex marriage performed at United Church. There was one four years ago, Shultz said. A commitment ceremony occurred last year, but not a full-blown wedding.
But how about all those "little wedding things" couples have to consider.
"We decided we wanted diamond rings," Shultz said. "It's a married thing, and girls love jewelry," she added.
The pair put on a search and found a ring they both loved at Gold Works at University Mall.
"The ring chose us," she said. A white gold band with three round diamonds.
Shultz knew she wanted a wedding gown, but Thomas was not sure she did. So they went shopping, both trying on gowns at Beautiful Day Bridal in Durham.
"I tried on two, and she tried on one," Shultz said. "I got the second one, and she got the one she tried."
Both dresses were ivory, Shultz's strapless with a fitted bodice, a sweetheart neckline and a modest train. Thomas' had a sweetheart neckline, fitted bodice with lace and a sash with a rhinestone brooch and a longer train.
Since the pair share a home in Durham and already have home furnishings, they did not register for gifts. Instead, they have a "honey fund," an online registry for honeymoon expenses. They will spend nine days at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu.
"We are similar people," Shultz said. "The biggest difference is that she is older, but this does not relate to our relationship. We both love the outdoors, we both dress nice, not boyish. She loves movies and social media. We love reading at the beach, and we value experiences over things. A lot of money is spent on vacations, experiences rather than the next big thing. I was an athlete and played college basketball at Kentucky. I see myself as all girl and think it is great not to feel stereotyped."
What about the upcoming vote in North Carolina on changing the constitution to ban gay marriage?
"As an ordained lesbian pastor in an open and affirming church, I wonder if people really want to put this kind of discrimination into the constitution," she said. "We should not lose sight of the fact that this vote comes down to whether or not we want to codify discrimination."
The wedding was a joyous affair with celebration of Holy Communion and a string quartet. Pachebel's Canon was used for the processional, and other music included Air on the G String and Suite 3 in D by Bach, all chosen by Thomas, the music specialist in this family.
When the newlyweds return from Hawaii, they plan to have a civil ceremony in Washington, D.C. This is important to them, Shultz said, because they plan to start a family, have children as soon as possible.