When Catherine Toth and Maureen Povinelli left for work June 26, marriage was something other people did. But that night, returning to their red brick Edgewater home held up with mortar made from Lake Erie sand, they were bound together.
Marriage had always been a playful routine for them, a lighthearted impossibility. Catherine, prone to fits of chest-heaving, face-scrunching laughter, would kneel and propose to Maureen each morning. Slight and reserved, Maureen would always reply, "What will it change?"
The pair originally met in a softball league when Catherine was 19 and Maureen 17. "I was in love with her and I didn't know it," says Catherine, now 54. "I didn't know I was gay, but I couldn't talk around her, my chest would tighten up."
They drifted in and out of each other's lives through college, coming out, careers in different cities and other relationships. They wrote each other, eventually graduating to AOL Instant Messenger. They watched as their style changed, from the '70s to the '90s. "We both stopped getting perms when we were told that we were a decade past when we should be getting them," says 52-year-old Maureen with a laugh.
The slow burn flared in 2000, when Catherine moved to Cleveland to be with Maureen, a court reporter at Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
On June 26, things finally did change. Outside the old Cuyahoga County Courthouse, 12 United Church of Christ ministers waited expectantly, standing on the grass of Mall C in rainbow stoles. Catherine and Maureen arrived, marriage license in hand. Then, like picking teams on the schoolyard, they had to choose their officiant. "It was sort of like a kickball game," says Catherine, a compliance manager at KeyBank.
They selected Jenn Ettorre for her zany pink sunglasses. "I thought,
The duo wanted a less religious service, and Ettorre obliged, crossing out sections with her pink highlighter. They moved the ceremony closer to blooming white hydrangeas.
"Every single little minute decision we made along the way led to a perfect wedding," Catherine says. "We broke up crying toward the end. The words were so lovely and beautiful."