Atlanta mothers Jennifer and Beth Anne celebrate their 10-year anniversary with a legally recognized ceremony in Cape Cod
Happy happening or deliberate decision, there are oodles of couples living in bliss that aren’t wed. That’s how it was for Beth Anne Higgins and Jennifer Lynne Brooks, who met at a campus ministry while attending the University of Georgia.
“I knew the moment I first laid eyes on Jennifer that I would be with her forever,” says Beth Anne. “I knew I would do whatever I had to in order to win her over. I knew that in time she would fall for me, too, and I was right.”
It took nine months for Jennifer to fall for Beth Anne but when she did, it was for good. “It's a really cheesy story, but one hot summer day we went to Helen, Ga., with some friends to go tubing down the Chattahoochee. When we were all in our tubes, we grabbed hands and haven't let go since,” says Beth Anne. She surprised Jennifer with commitment rings two years later. “We have been committed ever since, and have long considered ourselves to be bound together forever,” Jennifer says.
Beth Anne, a bridesmaid seven times over and maid of honor at her sister’s wedding, dreamed of walking down the aisle herself. “I had always imagined it, but never thought it would happen,” she says. Jennifer had something else on her wish list, and got it five years later when they welcomed two children, Ezra David and Jaden Mary. Although both women embraced motherhood, Beth Anne’s dream still wasn’t fully realized.
Jennifer recounts, “I was really never interested in a big celebration and was content with the commitment we made to one another privately, but I knew that a wedding was important to Beth Anne.” When she realized they were quickly nearing their 10-year anniversary as a couple, Jennifer casually suggested to Beth Anne that they make it official at a beach destination in one of states that legally recognizes gay marriage. “Of course, she jumped at the idea,” says Jennifer.
Changing laws and improving attitudes made marriage a possibility, but it was their own situation that really presented the perfect opportunity. “At this point in our lives, it was even more special because we had been together 10 years, had a beautiful family, and we were at a place financially where we could do it on our own and not rely on family,” says Beth Anne, now a lawyer working in DeKalb County as a juvenile court administrator.
“We wanted to get legally married and we wanted the wedding to take place at a house on the beach,” says Beth Anne. Provincetown, Mass., with its gay-friendly atmosphere and picturesque setting, satisfied both requirements. However, the chilly and often wet June weather was a bit of a surprise to the couple, both Southerners. Out of nine days they spent on Cape Cod, only two offered clear skies. Luckily, one was the day of the ceremony, so they still ended up with a sunny beach background for the pictures, taken by Olivia Peters.
Since Beth Anne was still working on her law degree, Jennifer, a high school graduation coach, handled most of the planning and found nearly everything online. They chose a Cape Cod vacation home as the venue and booked it nine months in advance. “There are great restaurants, shops, beaches and historical sites” in Provincetown, says Beth Anne. “We went whale watching, and none of us knew what to expect, but it turned out to be one of the most amazing things we had ever seen.”
All the food was handled by a husband and wife team Jennifer tracked down online, Cape Cod Chef on Call. Kevin Jamieson, a renowned chef, and his wife Judy, an event planner who specializes in wedding platters, came to the house with fresh ingredients (right down to a live lobster for the bisque!) and cooked everything on the premises. That included chocolate mousse, Beth Anne’s favorite dessert, in lieu of a wedding cake.
Besides skipping the cake, the couple threw weddings another curve. Vetoing a standard honeymoon, they opted to make the drive up a sightseeing road trip with Jaden and Ezra, and followed the ceremony with an intimate, week-long beach celebration at the house with their seven guests. A unique experience, it emphasized the importance of loved ones’ involvement in their relationship and lives.
For another meaningful touch, the ceremony was presided over by Jennifer and Beth Anne’s friend Rick, a fellow Christian from Atlanta the couple met at a Bible study nine years earlier. For $25, out-of-state clergy are allowed to get a one-day permit to officiate and sign the marriage certificate in Massachusetts.
After getting their makeup, nails and hair wedding-ready at the nearby West End Salon and Spa, the ladies headed back to the house for the wedding, where the ceremony was held on the porch and the reception inside. They each wore off-white floor-length gowns, Jennifer choosing one from David’s Bridal and Beth Anne selecting a strapless dress from J. Crew. Jaden sported a white J. Crew dress, too, and in true toddler fashion, she managed to acquire a rust stain right on the front just before the ceremony. After determining there was no quick fix, they decided to just let it go. “It was as if nothing could really bother us,” says Jennifer.
Passing on engagement rings, the couple had decided to exchange new diamond rings at the ceremony, although Jennifer still wears the original band Beth Anne had made for her nine years ago. “I wanted us to have unique rings, so I searched for a long time for ideas and stumbled upon some pictures of rough-cut diamonds. I was able to find two rough rose-cut diamonds, and we had them set into rings created by Johanna Torell with Accents Jewelry Design,” she says.
To include Ezra and Jaden—only two at the time, the curious toddlers preceded their mothers down the aisle with the rings tied on ribbons around their necks. “We encouraged them to sit in the laps of our friends until it was time for us to exchange the rings, then we asked them to come back and up and we took the rings from around their necks,” says Jennifer. For parents tying the knot, she advises, “Make sure you have someone assigned to take care of your children on the day of the wedding. This helps alleviate any stress you might have in worrying about their needs.” Still, both think it was a great decision to incorporate the children so much. “We love looking back and seeing the beautiful pictures we have with our children from that gorgeous day,” she adds.
With an iPod playing their favorite songs, “Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls and “Something in the Way She Moves” by James Taylor, they walked down the aisle hand in hand.
Each carried a bouquet of gerber daisies, Jennifer’s all orange and Beth Anne’s hot pink, delivered to the house by online wholesale company The Flower Exchange. Decorations were another area they did simply, but with style. “I bought a bunch of antique bell mason jars online and we carried them all the way up to Provincetown on our road trip,” says Beth Anne. They placed flowers and candles into the jars and placed them around the house and the aisle, adding a touch of DIY elegance.
It was important to the couple that everyone in attendance was involved, so each person had a reading card with a Bible verse. As it turned out, the guests served another important role: putting out Beth Anne’s dress. “In the middle of the ceremony, the beach breeze blew the edge of Beth Anne’s dress into one of the lit candles and singed the back edge. Beth Anne and I were completely oblivious, but our friends were quietly freaking out and handling the situation without our knowledge,” Jennifer recounts.
Small flukes aside, both partners felt great about their wedding choices. Everyone played an important role, and the great food and beautiful location were enjoyed by all, but what really defined the experience was the relaxation level. “Beth Anne and I were not stressed at all. We were just enjoying the whole experience,” says Jennifer. She managed to work in some pleasant surprises on the big day too, first by having Beth Anne’s sister show up and then by singing John Lennon’s “Grow Old with Me” during the ceremony.
“In preparation, I felt that I was doing this for Beth Anne. I really didn’t expect to get much out of it. I already knew that I was committed to Beth Anne forever. I had been living out that commitment with her for years, and did not feel that a ceremony was really going to make a difference one way or another,” says Jennifer says. “ After the ceremony, my immediate response was ‘That really exceeded my expectations.’ I think the ceremony was part of that feeling, but I believe the bigger piece was the legal aspect of being married.” Beth Anne also felt extremely proud of what they had done, exclaiming, “We got married legally!”
The pair recently celebrated their one-year anniversary on June 13. Reflecting back to their wedding, both feel they made a good decision, and that they were very lucky that everything came together as smoothly as it did. Although Jennifer and Beth Anne’s wedding was small, the pair was floored by the amount of work that went into the preparations. “A lot of time goes into getting all the little details of the wedding just right,” says Jennifer. Even with thorough planning, last-minute things can always pop up, especially at destination weddings, so starting early gives you the best chance of a quick recovery.
For extra satisfaction, anyone considering a wedding can learn from Jennifer and Beth Anne’s timing-oriented approach. Choosing the right point in life, when both partners know exactly what they want and can make it happen, enhances the whole event. “Do exactly what you want, because you only do it once and it makes the day perfect,” says Beth Anne. “Be true to your dream wedding.”
Today, many couples have children and are living happy lives like Jennifer and Beth Anne were, “bound together forever,” but sans the traditional ceremony and legal weight. For couples in a similar situation who are ready to make it official, Jennifer and Beth Anne’s wedding is a good model. The security of being settled allowed for a creative, personalized ceremony that highlighted what matters to them, on their own time.
Now Jennifer Lynne and Beth Anne Higgins-Brooks have a special day to remember—“when we are old and gray,” says Beth Anne. After the wedding, they welcomed a third child, Zion Moses, now almost a year old.
Although the couple gained lifelong memories and the gratification of a legal certificate, their official union didn’t mark any drastic change of affairs. Jennifer says, “We were partners before the wedding, and still consider ourselves to be partners now.” Nonetheless, the ceremony did give them a very special way to commemorate 10 years together. In Beth Anne’s words, “We have been together for a decade with many decades more to come!”