By the time Washington State legalized gay marriage last November, many LGBT couples had been waiting for months or years to tie the knot. While some officiates had been preforming "commitment ceremonies" prior to same-sex marriage legalization, December 6 marked the first day that legal licenses could be obtained in the state. By 10 am, 364 marriage licenses had been issued in Seattle alone.
Although hundreds of couples were anxious to get their licenses as soon as possible, others have chosen to organize their own ceremonies. That's where ordained ministers Jeralita "Jeri" Costa and Jenny Ward come in.
Costa and Ward specialize in officiating LGBT weddings. Their business, Joyful Joinings, offers services as varied as vow writing, vacation wedding planning and pre-marriage coaching. More than anything, though, Costa and Ward are dedicated to making the ceremony personal, in a way a city hall wedding might not.
"Many of these folks have waited so many years to get married, so they're just going to courthouses," Costa says. "But I know that many people would prefer to have a ceremony that is all about them."
A long-time advocate of gay marriage and staunch opponent of the Defense of Marriage Act during her time in the Washington State Senate, Costa now works as a victim advocate for the state, predominately for female prison inmates who are victims of staff sexual misconduct. Because Costa's participation in social justice advocacy is multifaceted, she and Ward have decided to donate 10 percent of Joyful Joinings' earnings to anti-bullying programs.
The donations are also an important part of Joyful Joinings' own mission: 9 out of 10 LGBT youths have been harassed at school.
"I really believe my sole purpose has always been to be of service to others," says Ward, a founding board member at Mothers Against Violence in America.
Although LGBT marriage is still a relatively-new concept for Washington State, it certainly isn't for Costa and Ward, who've spent much of their lives fighting for equal treatment to all.
"I actually grabbed the domain name 'Joyful Joinings' a few years ago," Costa admits.
However, at wedding shows, Ward said that Joyful Joinings' promotional cards (featuring two gays, two lesbians and a heterosexual couple) still raise eyebrows.
"You could tell when some people saw those photos, they didn't want to talk to us anymore," Ward says.
Because Washington State law does not require churches, synagogues or mosques to conduct gay marriages, there are still many institutions that remain intolerant. Costa and Ward are excited to be able to offer an accepting alternative that, while nondenominational, invites couples to incorporate their spiritual or cultural traditions into their wedding planning.
"I am romantic at heart, I love weddings," Ward says. To her, Joyful Joinings has become a full-time devotion.
Gay marriage is predicted to give an $88 million boost to the state and local economy, and that's not including out-of-state same-sex couples who might travel to Washington in order to obtain a license. 9,500 Washingtonian same-sex couples are expected to wed in the next three years.
"I think it's really going to be a great opportunity for Washington," Ward says.