They met at a New Year’s party in San Francisco in 1958. Saturday, nearly 54 years later, they wed.
It wasn’t the lack of commitment that kept them from tying the knot; they had persevered through thick and thin for more than half a century.
Rather, it was the fact that until Washington voters last month reaffirmed allowing same-sex marriage, the state wouldn’t recognize their marital union.
So, it was with more than the usual acclaim from friends and neighbors that John McCluskey and Rudy Henry said “I do” Saturday afternoon.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Tacoma religious leader the Rev. David Alger performed the brief ceremony at Tacoma’s First United Methodist Church. Some 300 guests attended the wedding, including familiar names from politics such as former Tacoma Mayor Karen Vialle. former state Rep. and Pierce County Councilman Dennis Flannigan and state Sen. Jeannie Darneille; dozens of leaders from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; and scores of friends and associates.
McCluskey, 76, and Henry, 78, were the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Pierce County after last month’s vote.
Both had been active in LGBT community work for years, said those who know them well. And as a couple who fearlessly and publicly proclaimed their devotion to each other decades before doing so became more common, the two provided leadership to those who came after them to campaign for gay rights, said their friends.
“They’ve been champions of gay causes,” said Darneille, the former director of the Pierce County AIDS foundation. “In a community where there weren’t a lot of older role models for younger gay people, John and Rudy were a beacon of hope to the gay community.”
Michelle Douglas, executive director of the Rainbow Center, said the two are “truly amazing human beings.” The two devoted countless hours to advancing both LGBT causes and those of the broader community.
When the ballot measure approving gay marriages passed, the couple’s friends quickly organized the wedding. The church provided its sanctuary and its reception room, local restaurants donated food, and others volunteered to handle the ceremonies, Douglas said.
The festivities came together in just a month.
Strickland called performing the wedding ceremony “an honor and a privilege.” The passage of the ballot measure, she said, was big victory not only for people like McCluskey and Henry but for the community as a whole.
McCluskey repeated his vows while seated near his longtime partner, Henry, who rides in a wheelchair because of a stroke.
The two had discussed marriage, but they thought approval might be years distant.
“We thought it might not happen in our lifetimes,” he said. “Now it has. I’m overcome with joy.”John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org