The two on Sunday were among the first handful of same-sex couples to tie the knot in Ridgewood following a rapid series of developments in the last month that legalized gay marriage in New Jersey, putting an end to their decades-long wait.
The rings they exchanged at a noon ceremony at the Unitarian Society were 30 years old, purchased on a payment plan when they were in their early twenties. And while the couple had made their own commitment, sharing a home in Fair Lawn the last two decades, Papanikolaou said she never expected so soon to formally exchange vows.
“I thought we would be in our nineties when we signed the papers and made it legal,” she said.
The two would have had the first same-sex wedding performed in the village last Monday at noon, the first day the marriages were permissible under court rulings. But a judge denied their request for an expedited license, and the wait continued.
Adding to the heartbreak, Sophie’s ring went missing for two days during the week, later being recovered with slight damage.
“It’s a little battered,” Rev. Kathleen Green remarked during the ceremony. “But so is life, isn’t it?”
A block away, Jim Thebery and Craig Barden, partners of 31 years, married in the first same-sex wedding held in Village Hall.
“It’s validating. It’s a positive foot forward not just for us but for everyone in the state,” said Thebery, the Bergen County director of disability services. “I thought it was going to drag out in the courts for a long time.”
And while the ceremony was attended by politicians – Freeholder Maura DeNicola stood as his witness, and Kathleen Donovan, the county executive, spoke before the ceremony – the simple event went by without any politics, which has so often surrounded the subject of gay marriage.
“It’s been a hell of a long time coming, and I’m glad it’s finally here,” Donovan said in her brief remarks.
The couples said that hospital visitation rights, pensions and federal benefits - all things that remained uncertain under the civil unions they held previously, made obtaining marriage licenses quickly a priority.
Noel and Papanikolaou said the rush for them to marry this week was the possibility that a court ruling could again leave them without the right. But with a recent state Supreme Court ruling allowing the marriages to begin, and Gov. Chris Christie dropping his appeal, a reversal now seems unlikely.
And so there was an added emphasis on one phrase uttered by Green in pronouncing the couple married: “By the power invested in me by the great state of New Jersey.”
“Love is not an argument for states rights,” Noel told her bride at the altar at the Unitarian Society. “It’s not a football for the governor. It’s about me and you.”