Marilys Ernst and Sarah Shively
By Jon Roth
Like many first dates, the one between Sarah Shively and Marilys Ernst didn’t go so smoothly. When Sarah met Marilys for lunch at Spring Street Natural in Soho, she wasn’t sure there was a connection, since Marilys seemed shy and avoided eye contact. Even worse, when the check arrived, Sarah realized she’d forgotten her wallet. “I don’t think I made a very positive impression,” she says. Marilys thought differently: “I found her intelligent, compassionate and interesting,” she remembers.
In the ten years since that halting conversation and wallet faux pas, the relationship between these two women has grown deeper and stronger. When they discussed marriage in November of 2010, the conversation was brief: They already knew they were meant to be together, and celebrated immediately with a Champagne toast.
The couple married a year later, on November 6, 2011, at the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow. Founded in 1697, it’s the oldest church in New York, and the site of several scenes from Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. As the first same-sex couple to marry there, Sarah and Marilys introduced a distinctly modern ceremony to the historic space. After their respective brothers walked them down the aisle, they recited their vows, promising to love one another and to “serve humankind in peace and hope.”
They walked out of the church and gave an impromptu bouquet toss on the steps outside (one bouquet was caught by a lesbian, the other by a straight woman). The ceremony was followed by a reception at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with a menu of Maine lobster, farm-fresh beef loin, and sesame praline. After 11 years, Sarah and Marilys are now enjoying married life and planning a honeymoon in Yosemite National Park and Napa Valley this spring.
Since the ceremony, they’ve heard nothing but thanks and congratulations from those in attendance. “I think there were some people who didn’t understand beforehand that our inability to marry was a profound injustice,” Sarah says, “or that our commitment was as precious as anyone else’s. I felt a deep affirmation that we were finally being recognized in a way that had never been possible before.”
All photos courtesy of Yi-Ching Lin.