As they exited the Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City, MO flashing beaming smiles and holding each other's hands tightly, Susan McSpadden and Shannon Feldt followed the path of bright, shiny sparklers lit for them by their guests - their friends, family members, and colleagues who had come to watch them express their lifelong commitment for each other. Minutes earlier, they had exchanged vows and said "I Do."
The sparklers outside of the church led them to a classic Bentley, where a driver awaited, ready to take them to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, where Susan proposed to Shannon months prior.
It had been the perfect engagement: Susan had recently returned from a business trip to Madrid, where she was on assignment photographing an event. The two-week trip was the longest Susan and Shannon had been physically separated since they started dating one year before, and both women were excited to be back together in the Kansas City metro area, where they had made a home together. Soon after, the couple went to the museum's sculpture garden for a beautiful day outside. As they finished eating dinner and sipped down more of their wine, Susan brought out several small jewelry boxes that she had gotten in Spain. Inside were two keys. "Throughout my trip in Spain, I kept seeing keys in the cathedrals and souvenir shops and symbols in the architecture of the towns I visited," Susan said. "They were symbolic of giving your complete trust to someone and allowing them into your life fully. The keys have a story and meaning behind them that no ring I could have picked would have."
Now at the museum again on their wedding day one year later, the women, their driver, and the Bentley pulled up to the building and spent some time there toasting with champagne and taking pictures while their guests headed down to Amigoni Urban Winery for the reception. As they approached the Winery, Susan asked the driver to park across the street. "That made zero sense to me," Shannon said. "And as I was expressing this to Susan, I saw some people gathered out front that I didn't recognize. I heard lots of whistles, and finally, it clicked."
The women got out of the car and neared the building, and Shannon saw what Susan surprised her with: A special performance by the Kansas City Marching Falcons' drum corps. "All of our guests heard the commotion from inside and poured out onto the street to watch," Shannon said. "It was the best entrance to a wedding reception ever, and it really set the tone for the rest of the evening."
Watch this breath-taking video from Susan and Shannon's wedding day - including the marching band performance - below, produced by Mike and Melissa Ransdell of One Tree Weddings:
The couple's relationship had blossomed from a long friendship. They met eight years ago through professional contacts - Shannon was the art director for a local media group in the Kansas City area and needed a new photographer for a business publication; during her search, she connected with Susan. They stayed in touch over the years, and late 2010, Shannon began suspecting that her feelings for Susan transcended friendship. "I didn't want to disrupt the beautiful friendship we had formed over the years, but I couldn't deny that I was developing feelings for her," Shannon said. "I would carefully craft messages that could be taken as flirty or just normal conversation - depending on how you read it."
One night, Shannon received a similarly ambiguous text message from Susan asking if she wanted to go to a haunted house tour with some of Susan's friends. "I was super excited - but then I was confused," Shannon said. "Was this a date? Was I just her buddy tagging along?" When they arrived at the restaurant and all of Susan's friend's sized Shannon up, That's when she knew: This was a date. "From that point on, we have been together every single day, minus a few work trips here and there," Shannon said.
Two and a half years later, Susan and Shannon have built a beautiful relationship with each other, one strengthened by the foundation of their very close friendship. They live together with their children, 6-year-old Davis and 3-year-old Georgia, from a previous relationship of Shannon's. "The kids have known Susan since they were itty bitty," Shannon explained. "Both have accepted her fully into their lives - they call her their ‘bonus mom,'" she laughed.
Shannon and Susan had an amazing ceremony and were able to express their commitment for each other last year in their home community - but because same sex couples in Kansas, where they live, and Missouri, where they had their ceremony, do not have the freedom to marry, their marriage is not respected by their state or the federal government. In the eyes of the state and the country, they are single women.
But Susan, Shannon, and the 75 people who attended their ceremony last year know that the love they share is equivalent to that of different-sex married couples. They know that their relationship deserves the same essential protections and responsibilities that marriage provides. They know that their commitment deserves acknowledgement, dignity, and respect.
"When you fall in love - real love - marriage is the highest form of recognition of that love," Shannon said, explaining why couples like her and Susan - couples across the Midwest, couples across the South, and couples nationwide - need the freedom to marry. "No matter what happens in life, you have your best friend beside you to help you through, laugh with you, cry with you, cheer you on, and raise you up. Without a doubt, life through its ups and downs is so much better with Susan than it ever was without her."