Produced by marriage equality organization Freedom to Marry in partnership with The Devotion Project, Gail and Audrey’s video is the first in a series to be released in an endeavor to humanize the many legislative fights taking place surrounding gay marriage in the coming weeks.
Gail (a silver medalist in women’s basketball in the 1976 Olympics) and Audrey (a pioneering fashion figure who started her career as a model and commentator for Ebony Fashion Fair, eventually becoming a Vogue contributing editor) make it clear that, despite their accomplishments, they are just a normal couple.
“Our video shows, and our relationship shows, it’s just a nice relationship,” Audrey told theGrio. “We are just two people who grew together. We just come from love. We only emit love. We’re not walking around with placards and signs and petitions. We just love each other!”
The evident tenderness and solidity of their partnership is clear in An Unexpected Love Story, which is full of the details one might expect to hear in a “how we met” narrative. But for Gail and Audrey, their meeting blossomed with a rippling impact touching family, friends — and the nation.
And it started like many love affairs do — through a date.
“Oooo! Exciting!,” Audrey piped up enthusiastically when asked to describe their first intimate meeting. “May first, 1999, on a Saturday,” she immediately recalled. “It was a beautiful day.”
Meeting for dinner at a romantic restaurant on the New Jersey waterfront, she and Gail talked for hours under a full moon, discovering they had much in common. Audrey had never dated a woman before. Yet, after an intentionally out-of-the-way drive to take Audrey home, she and Gail exchanged kisses at her door.
“We haven’t missed a day either seeing each other or speaking to each other” since, Gail reminisced. “Not once in the 13-and-a-half years–”
“It’s going to be 14 years May first. 167 months,” Audrey interrupted as they chatted merrily with me over the phone about their partnership. As their love evolved, and they sought a more secure, public recognition of it, Audrey and Gail looked into the legal options in New Jersey, Gail’s official state of residency, but the women found the transaction alienating.
It was the opposite of the flowing, emotional nature of their life together.
“We were doing the civil union,” Gail continued, “and the paperwork — it just seemed so very cold. It just seemed like a tax arrangement. So you pay less taxes here. Or you can go into a hospital here… It didn’t seem like there was any kind of love or commitment in it. It was almost a premonition that Audrey and I maintain separate residences.”
Although the couple spent much of their time in New Jersey, Audrey had maintained her Manhattan apartment as her primary residence throughout the decade of their relationship. Although residency is not required for a couple to marry in New York, when the state passed its marriage equality law in July 2011, the fact that Audrey was a super-proud, born and bred New Yorker made the event seem like an omen.
“We just jumped on the opportunity and said, ‘This is it,'” Gail related. “We were committed, and we were going to get it done. I kept telling Audrey… ‘We gotta get married, girl.'”
They chose the auspicious date of 11/11/11 to officially, and romantically, tie the knot — and have seen a change in their community in reaction to their fortified bond.
“Some of our friends, and people that we know of color — they don’t ‘tolerate’ us anymore,” Audrey observed. “I think they accept us as them. Just Audrey and Gail. We are who we are… They accept us… I don’t know a statistic, I don’t know any of that. I just feel it.”
But, statistics support her assertion. In late 2012, it was widely reported that 51 percent of the African-American community supports gay marriage compared to only 47 percent of whites, countering the widespread belief that blacks are more homophobic than the general population.
To these black women representing the face of marriage equality as lawyers and law makers battle over its legitimacy, this is important. It is a shift encouraging more blacks to come out to greater acceptance.
“I won’t say that the African-American community is at all any more homophobic than anybody else,” Gail concurred. “The more other African-Americans see us, they feel more and more comfortable to speak up. They just seem to be coming out, and saying who they are, and being proud, and speaking up. They’re having the conversations with their family members, with their religious leaders. Whether they are accepted or not, they are starting to get their voice.”
For Audrey and Gail, who recounted with warm laughs many sentimental family stories, their huge extended family — cousins, nephews, aunts, and more — feels only happiness through knowing the positive twosome.
“People want to be around Gail and I, whether they are straight or gay,” Audrey said about their appeal, noting that she doesn’t understand those who can oppose what she sees as pure love. “We just bring something to wherever we are. We just have a good time. We’re happy to be together. I’m just honored really to have a wife like this wonderful woman named Gail Marquis.”
“And Audrey’s my wife, too. So we’re wife and wife,” Gail added. “We don’t put labels on love. I often tell people, we’re harmless. I tell people my only crime is loving Audrey. Audrey’s only crime is loving Gail.
“We come from love, that’s who we are.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.