- Weddings have always been considered a source of hope and celebration.
- Some weddings, like the marriage between Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins and Michael Gordon at a Black Lives Matter demonstration, have unfolded alongside major moments in history.
- Others have been the cause of them, such as Mildred and Richard Loving’s nuptials, which helped bring about an end to miscegenation laws in the US.
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Marriage is most often associated with emotional wedding reception toasts, colourful bridesmaids dresses, and families coming together to celebrate.
However, every so often, a marriage will mark a pivotal point in history, whether it be liberation, equality, or a moment of hope amid unprecedented times.
Here are nine examples of weddings that have marked major moments in history.
When abolitionists Lucy Stone and Henry Browne Blackwell wed in 1855, they argued that a woman should be equal to her husband in marriage.
Lucy Stone was known for being a pioneer in both the women’s suffrage movement and the abolitionist movement during the mid-19th century. While fighting for equal rights, she met Henry Browne Blackwell, a fellow abolitionist, in 1853. After two years of him persisting for her hand in marriage, the couple was wed on May 1, 1855 in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. At their ceremony, the couple presented a signed document rebelling against the idea that a wife falls under the legal dominion of her husband. Only a few days later, on May 5, 1855, the state of Massachusetts granted women separate economy, marking an unprecedented measure of civil freedom.
Although Stone initially took Browne Blackwell’s surname as her own, a year after their marriage she decided to return to her maiden name, stating, “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.”
This bold declaration of female independence in marriage was uncommon for the time, but contributed to immense strides made in advancing the women’s rights movement. According to Women’s History, the couple’s efforts even spanned generations, with their daughter Alice taking up the torch in order to aid in the formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890.
While the couple lived to see the end of slavery in the US, they had both passed away before women got the vote in 1920. Their contributions to both causes cannot be overstated.
The “Bride of Belsen,” a concentration camp prisoner who married one of her liberators, stood as a beacon of hope following the end of World War II.
When the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was shuttered in April 1945, Gena Goldfinger, a camp inmate, made the acquaintance of Sgt. Norman Turgel, one of the British soldiers responsible for the camp’s liberation. He was love-struck. After a short courtship, the two were engaged and married on October 7, 1945. According to History Collection, she wore a wedding dress crafted from a silk British Army parachute and became forever known as “The Bride of Belsen,” a beacon of hope to those who survived the Holocaust.
Gena Turgel remained a renowned influence in the fight against anti-Semitism, even after her husband died in 1995, drawing from remarkable personal experiences that included nursing Anne Frank before her untimely death. In addition to touring Britain to educate young minds on the horrors that had taken place during the war, she also wrote a testimony of her years of imprisonment, “I Light a Candle.”
At a 2018 Holocaust remembrance day in London, she said, “My story, the story of a survivor, is the story that 6 million others cannot tell. I was, and I am, and I always shall be a witness to the mass murder and systematic destruction of a civilisation.”
Mildred and Richard Loving broke all the rules in order to wed in a time when racial segregation in their home state still forbade it.
Mildred and Richard Loving were childhood friends, growing up together in Central Point, Virginia. Mildred’s heritage was a mix of African American and Native American while Richard was white. After starting a quiet courtship, Mildred became pregnant and the two resolved to get married, but Virginia was one of the few states that still enforced anti-miscegenation laws. As a result, the couple made a trip to Washington, DC, tying the knot in June 1958 before returning to their home in Virginia. They didn’t know at the time, but their nuptials would have an immense impact on American interracial marriage laws.
Only a few weeks after their wedding, the Loving home was stormed by police officers acting on a tip that the two had broken Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act. The couple managed to come to an agreement with the judge presiding over their case, promising to leave their beloved state of Virginia behind for a minimum period of 25 years rather than facing jail time.
After about nine years in exile, the Lovings decided they’d had enough. According to History.com, thanks to a referral from Robert Kennedy, the couple made a case with the ACLU to take on the very anti-miscegenation laws that had caused them so much pain. In a landmark 1967 decision, the Loving v. Virginia case decided that “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the state,” as written by Justice Earl Warren.
The overwhelming victory celebrated its 53rd anniversary on June 12.
Regina and Eckhard Albrecht were divided by the Berlin Wall. Their marriage was a symbol of the determination that would eventually lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain.
When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, no one could have imagined the deep fissure it would send through the hearts and homes of the city’s residents for the next three decades.
Regina and Eckhard met at a supervised event in East Berlin in 1967, ITV reported. Upon Eckhard’s return to West Berlin, he and Regina became penpals, writing love letters to one another until their secret courtship was discovered by officials and led to harsh penalties for both. This didn’t stop them, though. The pair continued to write via smuggled letters until finally meeting again in Soviet Hungary where they planned their engagement in addition to Regina’s escape from East Berlin.
After a failed attempt at making it past the Iron Curtain, Regina was finally smuggled out in a car by squeezing into its modified gas tank in 1971. There was a gruelling shuffle game between Romania, what was then Yugoslavia, and Austria but Regina finally made it into Eckhard’s arms. Although Regina passed away in 2017, the couple had been married for over four decades and their marriage stands as a beautiful success story in the face of overwhelming odds.
In a 2014 ITV interview, Eckhard stressed the importance of the new generation in appreciating democracy, stating, “You need to work hard for your rights and never take them for granted. And we need to be watchful and alert, people tend to forget that.”
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin’s marriage signified the beginning of legalised marriage among members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin exchanged vows – twice! The pioneering couple met in 1950 and by 1955, they had co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first socio-political organisation for lesbians. It didn’t seem like there was much the two couldn’t do, except marry. Finally, in 2004, then-Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom approached the couple asking if they’d like to be the first to have their nuptials officiated despite the act not yet being legally recognised in the state of California. Naturally, they agreed - another first. After only 12 days, their marriage was rendered invalid when the California Supreme Court ruled the ceremony (and the thousands of others that followed) moot.
With Lyon and Martin being one of many couples who fought for sexual equality when it came to marriage, the news was devastating.
According to a 2004 ACLU press release, Lyon said, “Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time.”
But they wouldn’t have to wait long for another opportunity. Thanks to their efforts, the fight for legalizing gay marriage finally had some wind under its wings and, in 2008, they were again issued a California marriage licence, this time for good. Once more, they were the first to be wed in San Francisco, and their nuptials were officiated by Mayor Newsom himself.
Although both have since passed away, they would have celebrated their 12-year wedding anniversary (and over 65 years of partnership) on June 16.
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer’s marriage led to same-sex couples getting access to the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer met in New York in 1963 and, for Edie, the connection was instantaneous. Thea, however, wasn’t quite sold on monogamy. However, according to History.com, Edie’s dogged tenacity finally won Thea over and the two came together for a relationship that would last over four decades.
During that time, Thea was diagnosed with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis at the young age of 45 and, after 30 years of living with the degenerative disease, was made aware that she had only a year left. Although the couple had been in a civil partnership since New York’s legalization in 1993, they decided it was high time to tie the knot.
So the two trailblazers set off for Canada and exchanged vows in May 2007. Two years later, Spyer passed away at home, leaving behind a heartbroken widow and over half a million dollars worth of estate taxes. For any heterosexual couple, no such financial burden would have been an issue but for Edie, it was. So she went to court.
After a gruelling, 4-year battle, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour in a landmark decision that granted same-sex married couples federal benefits. While taking a victory lap throughout New York City following the win, the octogenarian is quoted saying, “If you have to outlive a great love, I can’t think of a better way to do it than being everybody’s hero.”
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s union brought about the modernisation of one of the oldest institutions in the world: the British royal family.
The marriage between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is certainly one for the history books. Besides the couple’s advances in modernising centuries-long customs, the marriage also celebrated the welcoming of the first divorced woman of mixed-race into the British royal family.
To many, Markle is an inspiration who marks a turning point for systemic racism in the upper echelons of society. But when asked in a 2017 BBC interview what she thought about the media scrutiny around her background, she remarked on how “disheartening” it is that it’s “the climate in this world to focus that much on” someone’s ethnicity. However, she went on to say, “At the end of the day, I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from.”
Reilly Jennings and Amanda Wheeler showed that a pandemic couldn’t get in the way of love as they tied the knot in the middle of a New York City footpath.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, wedding ceremonies across the country were put on hold due to safety concerns. For many couples, the realisation that they would have to delay their nuptials was devastating, but for Reilly Jennings and Amanda Wheeler, it was a small bump in the road.
Although originally slated to be married late last year, the couple accepted their ceremony would just have to wait. Instead, they settled on a plan to have a simple courthouse wedding until Mayor Bill de Blasio declared in March that New York City’s Marriage Bureau would be closed until further notice. However, Jennings and Wheeler would not be deterred. Upon finding out that a friend of theirs was ordained through the state of New York, they planned their ceremony … on the footpath outside an apartment building. As their friend stood out of his fourth-floor window and officiated from above, the couple stood surrounded by a handful of socially distanced companions and a crowd of cheering onlookers.
Although there have been devastating consequences to the coronavirus, some peace can be taken in knowing that love always finds a way. The wedding of Jennings and Wheeler was a bright spot amid so much heartbreak.
Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins and Michael Gordon made their wedding into a powerful socio-political emblem when they exchanged vows and then joined the Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia.
Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality have broken out across the US and other parts of the world – but you wouldn’t expect to see a wedding dress among the crowds of masked protesters. However, on June 6, Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins and Michael Gordon could be seen in full wedding attire with fists raised in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although COVID-19 had postponed their initial ceremony, they decided on a June “micro” wedding, not knowing that the world would face yet another hurdle in the form of demands for racial equality. As their big day approached, so did a massive Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia, but the couple remained determined to exchange vows.
In an interview with Philadelphia Mag, their premarital counselor and officiant Reverend Roxy Birchfield remarked on the extraordinary circumstances of the day: “Seeing Kerry-Anne and Michael in the middle of the protestors holding hands, fists in the air in support of Black Lives Matter and kissing during their first look, was the rainbow I needed sent from God.”
- Read more:
- A couple got married in the middle of a Black Lives Matter protest after their ceremony was cancelled due to the coronavirus
- How LGBTQ+ weddings have changed since marriage equality’s nationwide legalization 5 years ago
- 6 things that might never happen at weddings again in a post-coronavirus world
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