WILKES-BARRE — Saturday was the first time Noelle McKay could remember taking off her wedding ring, and it was for a good reason.
She exchanged marriage vows with her partner of 14 years, Jennylyn Coolbaugh, in a ceremony with two other women couples who chose to legally unite after a federal judge overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage.
McKay and Coolbaugh of Harveys Lake, along with the other couples — Joyce Clark and Anna Sears of Pittston, and Andrea Ellis and Shirley Phillips of Wilkes-Barre — placed their rings on pillows atop a table on the altar of Unity of NEPA church where Rev. Diane Sickler officiated.
“It felt really weird to take it off and put it up there,” McKay said. She and Coolbaugh had been united for 13 years.
As each woman placed a ring on the third finger of their spouse’s left hand, they repeated vows at the direction of Sickler, “With this ring I give you my promise of love, now and forever more.”
During the 20-minute ceremony attended by approximately 60 people, Sickler read from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, that said, “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love is not boastful.” It concluded with “Love never ends.”
She pointed out that Jesus Christ’s first miracle was when he changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
“I believe that Christ is here. I believe that all of us here in this room are here to bless you,” she told the couples.
They embraced and kissed at the end of the ceremony and greeted by their children, grandchildren, relatives and friends who came to the front of the church to congratulate the newlyweds.
Dressed in a purple dress and holding a matching bouquet Ellis chuckled at Sickler’s comment that she and Phillips, who have been together for three years, were babies compared to Clark and Sears who’ve been with each other for 20 years.
Ellis recalled that she woke up Phillips after learning that they could be legally married.
“I proposed that night,” Phillips said.
In May U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favor of a widow, 11 couples and one couple’s teenage daughters who challenged the constitutionality of the ban passed by lawmakers in 1996. “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” Jones wrote.
Iyishia Pacheco of Kingston snapped photos of McKay and Coolbaugh as they ate pieces of a wedding cake baked by church member Becky Pace.
“They’re the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Pacheco said. “I’m so happy for them.”
Pace had spent two days getting the ingredients and making the cake.
“This is my first wedding cake ever,” Pace said.
She’d made birthday cakes for parties, but nothing like the three-layer, white cake with raspberry filling and freshly shredded coconut that she cut into slices for the guests and couples at a reception in the church after the weddings.