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First same-sex ceremony held at West Point Cadet Chapel
From a news release
2012-12-03

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Photo courtesy Jeff Sheng


(West Point, NY) Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Board member Brenda S. "Sue" Fulton today married long time Penelope Dara Gnesin at the Cadet Chapel at West Point. A member of the first class to include women at West Point in 1980, she now serves as a presidential appointee to its Board of Visitors. Fulton is also the Executive Director of Executive Director of Knights Out, an organization of LGBT West Point graduates and allies. She joined OutServe-SLDN's newly combined Board in October 2012. The ceremony, scheduled for 2pm today, will be the first same-sex wedding at the Cadet Chapel. Last week, Army 1st Lieut. Ellen Schick married Ms. Shannon Simpson at the Old Cadet Chapel, a smaller venue on Academy grounds.

"West Point holds special significance to both me and Penny," said Fulton "From the time I was a cadet, what West Point stands for — integrity, leadership, selfless service — have been my touchstones. When Penny and I worked on ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' we kept coming back to the core value of integrity, and that's what made a difference. To be able to legalize our union here, especially at the Cadet Chapel, is really important to us."

The couple met in 1995 during a community sing. Penny attended a local event with singer-songwriter Carolyn McDade. While most of the participants sang melody, Sue's contralto harmony caught Penny's ear and ultimately brought the two to together.

"Witnessing the joining of Sue and Penny in holy matrimony in this sacred place means a great deal to gay and lesbian alumni of West Point, and to all LGBT service members," said OutServe-SLDN executive director and West Point alumna Allyson Robinson. "It sends a clear message that we, too, are part of the 'Long Gray Line' of graduates and that we will not back down until our families receive the same respect and the same benefits other military families do." Robinson attended the ceremony with her wife Danyelle, also a graduate; the two were married at the Cadet Chapel in 1994 (prior to her gender transition). "We at OutServe-SLDN are so proud of Sue and Penny and wish them many more happy years together."

Penny being a life-long New Jerseyan, they planned to marry in their home state of New Jersey when the state assembly passed a marriage equality bill. However Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the measure forcing the couple to rethink their plans.

"I just didn't want to wait any longer," said Sue who proposed over the summer. The couple held a commitment ceremony in 1999, though it held no legal significance.

"I still hope that our home state will recognize marriage equality, but Penny—as strong as she is—is a breast cancer survivor, and has been dealing with Multiple Sclerosis for more than ten years. We cannot wait for a governor who thinks everyone should get to vote on whether, after 17 years together, we are really married."

Penny is philosophical about the importance of legal recognition and being able to have the ceremony at West Point: "It feels like the end of an era of repression, of inequality - and end to the time of 'you're not good enough.' I feel like I can hold my head up higher, stand up straighter, with the person I've chosen to spend my life with."

The celebrants are Episcopalian Army Chaplain (Colonel) Wesley Smith, Senior Army Chaplain of Mortuary Affairs at Dover Air Force Base (DE); and Rev. Vanessa Southern, Unitarian Universalist, and pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church at Summit (NJ).

At the closing blessing, Smith and Southern will be joined at the altar by a Reform Jewish rabbi as well as ministers from Presbyterian, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Metropolitan Community Churches. All are friends of the couple.

"We know many clergy, and we're honored to have Chaplain Smith and Reverend Southern to officiate."

Sue, 53, works at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. She was honorably discharged from the Army at the rank of captain.

She is the daughter of Benjamin D. and Clara Bevis Fulton of Lakeland, FL. Her father, a Navy veteran, was a teacher at Martin County High School. Her mother, who is also retired, was the first female principal at Martin County High School.

Penny, 52, is a holistic healer and director of the women's choir, Giving Voice. She graduated from Rutgers University and is medically retired from AT&T.

She is a daughter of Oscar and Sylvia Katz Gnesin of Long Branch, N.J., both deceased. Her mother was a history teacher and an attorney for the local teachers' union. Her father worked as an electrical engineer for the U.S. government.

Giving Voice, a women's a cappella chorus, was founded by Penny 18 months ago, and is based at the Universal Unitarian Congregation of Monmouth County, Lincroft, N.J. Giving Voice was joined by three members of Olympia's Daughters, founded and directed by Penny from 1989 to 2009.

The couple is postponing their honeymoon until next year.

About OutServe-SLDN: OutServe-SLDN is the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel with more than fifty chapters and 6000 members around the world It works to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. OS-SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. For more information, visitwww.outserve-sldn.org .


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