New York celebrates marriage: Mary Jo and Jo-Ann, one year later

Editors' Note: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 marks the first anniversary of legal marriages between same-sex couples in New York. To celebrate, Freedom to Marry is sharing the stories of same-sex couples who tied the knot this year, celebrating their love and commitment with beautiful ceremonies and gatherings of their friends, family members, and other loved ones. Here, we share the story of Mary Jo Kennedy and Jo-Ann Shain, who married on July 24, 2011. Read all of our stories about the first year of the freedom to marry in New York.

For New Yorkers Mary Jo Kennedy and Jo-Ann Shain, last year's marriage victory was both personal and political. As plaintiffs in the Lambda Legal case that spurred the movement for marriage in New York, they were directly involved in each step of the win, and today remain strong advocates for the importance of the freedom to marry to all loving and committed couples.

Early in last year's campaign, as part of an effort by New Yorkers United for Marriage, the coalition that worked with legislators, advocates, and everyday New Yorkers to win marriage, Jo-Ann and Mary Jo were the stars of a touching video about why marriage matters to them. "We've shared everything; our home, our lives," they said. "We get sick, we take care of each other. We're just in it for the long run, and we have a deep commitment to each other."

A year later, when asked if being married has changed her life, Jo-Ann answers that in some ways, yes, but in others, no. "Yes, in the sense that we're fully equal now and we worked to hard to get to this point," she explains. "So there's a sense of accomplishment." She also points out that now, she and Mary Jo's relationship is fully recognized by the rest of society. "We're a married couple, and that gives us a tremendous sense of satisfaction."

But she adds that nothing has changed in how they see themselves. "We're just living our daily lives like we did before."

Although the win in New York was a huge step for the national movement for marriage, the women still know that not all Americans have the same support. "I certainly hope that they have the opportunity throughout the country that we did," says Jo Ann. whether they approve of marriage or not; take advantage for no other reason than the historical significant of it

Mary Jo and Jo-Ann married on July 24, 2011, the first day that marriage licenses were issued to New Yorkers. "We were at City Hall early in the morning," Jo-Ann recalls. "We were interviewed by CNN, which was really wonderful. We were whisked from there down to the marriage bureau, and there was a wonderful energy; there were so many couples, standing in line waiting their turn just like us. There was press all over. The energy was just electrifying."

Jo-Ann recalls the feelings of friendship and camaraderie that were so strong that morning. "We made friends with people who were standing in line with us, both other couples and their families." Joining her and Mary Jo was their daughter, Aliya; Mary Jo's sister and husband; and a good friend of Aliya's. Following that day, the newlyweds had a wedding celebration on October 11, 2011 with family and friends.

"For most of our years together, we had never thought that legal marriage would be a part of our lives or that we would need the protections that marriage offered," Jo-Ann recalls. "That all changed ... Marriage means that we are finally full citizens of NYS ... That means the world to us."

Watch the video of Jo-Ann and Mary Jo from last year!