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The First Same-Sex Wedding at West Point Chapel is a Watershed Moment

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December 14, 2012

Recently, the first same sex wedding was held at West Point Chapel for the seventeen year sweethearts, Brenda Sue Fulton and Penelope Gnesin. The media responded surprisingly positively. Same-sex marriage and military opposition to open homosexuality are both hot topics for the gay rights movement and media outlets alike. Thusly, the marriage of Fulton and Gnesin being taken so well shows an advance for the world around us in more than one area of concern. For lesbian culture visibility in 2012 America this is undoubtedly a monumental event.

An Army chaplain married Brenda Sue Fulton and Penelope Gnesin on December 1, 2012. Fulton had graduated from West Point in 1980 in the very first female class. She rose to the rank of captain by 1986.  Soon after she left the service due to military opposition of her sexuality.  Within the past year, Fulton was honored by recently reelected, President Obama, who gave her a place in the US Military Academy’s Board of Visitors.

Fulton and Gnesin had a civil commitment ceremony in 1999. However, like many other same sex couples, they further sought the perks of a legally bound marriage. Emergency situations, a plethora of economic issues (including taxes, insurance, inheritance, etc.), property rights, parental rights, and many other benefits are gained from a state- approved marriage. These two lovers were finished waiting. The time had finally arrived and the climate was finally safe to have their dream wedding after several incredible changes within the framework of America.

In 2001 the Netherlands was the first nation to legalize same sex marriage. Great Britain, Canada, Belgium, Spain, and other countries were quick to follow the progressive trend. Federally in the United States, same sex marriage is still unconstitutional as the Defense of Marriage Act bans the recognition of such partnerships. However, Massachusetts was the first to recognize same sex marriage in 2004 on a state level. Shortly thereafter, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Maryland, and Washington legalized same sex marriage on a state level as well. Most recently and importantly to the case of Fulton and Gnesin- New York approved the same sex marriage ballot on July 24, 2011. Fulton and Gnesin are technically New Jersey residents but decided it would be worth it to take a short trip over the Hudson.

Also adding to the nearly perfect climate for Fulton and Gnesin to have a wedding was the toppling of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. A year and some change ago on September 20, 2011 marked the end the seventeen year old and terribly flawed military position. “As of September 20, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country,” President Obama noted upon repealing this policy.

There is adequate evidence to suggest Fulton’s military career would have not prematurely ended had this policy never begun in the first place. As Lillian Faderman reflects in Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: “A major effect that military life of the 1950s had on lesbian subculture was to confirm even further for the outside world love between women was a love that dared not speak its name, that it would certainly not be treated with common decency and respect.” In contrast, a major effect the 2010s had on lesbian subculture was to confirm even further for the outside world love between women was a love that spoke its name with conviction and that it would insist upon being treated with common decency and respect.

Audre Lorde notes in Sister Outsider, “Your silence will not protect you.” The mass media’s celebration of the Fulton and Gnesin union is evidence that Lesbianism is silent no more. 
Topple patriarchy. Let inclusion reign.  May these prototypes of same gender marriage live a long and happy life together. Congratulations Brenda Sue Fulton and Penelope Gnesin- Choice USA wishes you both the best.

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2 Responses to “The First Same-Sex Wedding at West Point Chapel is a Watershed Moment”

  1. Andrew

    Aww! Sue Fulton is my boo. We worked together while I was at OutServe. Her and Penny are such a beautiful couple! Great piece Lauren!