It all started with a proposal.
In January 2002, Mignon Moore and Elaine Harley met for the very first time at an engagement celebration in New York City. Earlier that day, Mignon's cousin had proposed to Elaine's sister, and that night, the two families gathered together in celebration of the happy occasion.
The night of the proposal wasn't only the beginning of the newly engaged couple's journey toward marriage - it also signaled the start of a wonderful relationship between Mignon and Elaine, a relationship that marked 10 years earlier this summer, when the women married in New York and celebrated with a destination wedding to Los Cabos, Mexico.
After meeting at the engagement celebration, Mignon and Elaine became fast friends. Although Mignon and Elaine are both native New Yorkers, Mignon had only recently returned to the city, having completed graduate school and beginning her first teaching job at Columbia University. Elaine introduced Mignon to the women's community in New York, and the two grew close by attending events for women of color in the city.
They started dating, and over the next four years, fell in love, moved in together, and began hosting their own weekly social events for women in the Village. Elaine is a DJ, so she would DJ at the events, and Mignon would serve as hostess.
In 2006, Mignon was offered a teaching job at the University of California in Los Angeles.
"They made me a job offer that I couldn't refuse," Mignon said. "And I asked Elaine to come with me. We were going to get married then, but instead, we used the money we wanted to use for our wedding to buy a house. And we started building a life together in California."
In the April 2008, Mignon and Elaine became domestic partners in California - the highest form of legal respect same-sex couples could attain in the state at the time.
In May 2008, the California Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from marriage, and same-sex couples in the state were finally allowed to marry. Mignon and Elaine had just become domestic partners, so they decided to hold off a bit on having a wedding.
"We wanted to have a wedding associated with our marriage," Mignon said. "And we thought we'd have time to think about it. But then Proposition 8 happened, and they took the option away. So when marriage became legal in New York in 2011, we said, 'You know what? Even though we live in California, we can't wait for California to do this. Let's get married in New York - it's where we grew up. It's where our heart is.'"
That year, Mignon and Elaine began planning their wedding - a three-part affair that properly suited their ten years of love and commitment.
First, they traveled to New York City in March 2012 to receive an official marriage license. Then, they went with 40 of their friends and family members to Los Cabos, Mexico, to a resort where they purchased a time share ("We're very impressionable," Mignon laughed). They enjoyed a weekend of activities with their guests, which culminated with a sunset cruise, champagne toast, and a beautiful wedding ceremony on the beach.
"Elaine and I walked each other down the aisle," Mignon said. "We felt that we were walking together to meet this next phase of our journey and our life together."
When they returned from Mexico, the happy couple hosted a reception at their home in Los Angeles - complete with 100 guests, home-cooked food from Mignon's mother, and wedding bells for decoration.
In June 2013, Mignon and Elaine finally saw their marriage fully respected - by both their state, California, and the federal government. That's because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied them all of the federal protections of marriage, and restored the freedom to marry in California. Now, they're hopefuly for the day that same-sex couples can legally marry in all 50 states in the country.
Mignon explained why marriage matters to her and Elaine - and why committed same-sex couples should not have to settle for civil union or domestic partnership: "We think that marriage provides a clear idea of who we are and what we mean to each other," she said. There's something about marriage and the experience of having a wedding that creates a clear idea in people's heads of who we are."
Mignon and Elaine also said that she feels that weddings between same-sex couples can help cultural communities better understand why marriage matters to the gay and lesbian community.
"If couples have religious or ethnic or cultural elements that are important to their backgrounds, I'd love to see more of these things shown," Mignon said. "These elements are part of who same-sex couples are. And it's important not just for those couples, but for their racial and cultural communities to see those traditions represented, even in same-sex unions. It helps to form a link to same-sex couples. It helps them to really see that link to their own community."
Mignon and Elaine incorporated their own cultural background into their wedding by incorporating the African-American tradition of "jumping the broom."
"It's symbolic of sweeping away the old and welcoming the new," Mignon explained. "Since slaves were not allowed to marry legally in the United States during the times of slavery, African-Americans sought legitimacy of marriage by jumping over a broom. It helps us to remember where we came from - and to remember that even as enslaved Africans, our ancestors valued marriage, and they tried to make meaning out of a commitment. Jumping the broom is the way that we bring our ancestry into the present and retain that element of our culture."
Now, ten years after meeting for the first time at the engagement party, Mignon and Elaine have walked each other down the aisle and jumped the broom into their hopeful future together. They continue supplementing their day jobs - Mignon is a sociology professor studying LGBT communities of color, and Elaine is a graphic designer - by organizing monthly events for the lesbian community in Southern California. And they're hoping to expand their family through adoption.
Throughout all of these future occasions - the good, the bad, the joyful and the disappointing - we're thrilled that Mignon and Elaine will always be able to turn to each other, celebrate their commitment to each other, and find strength in their marriage.