MARY & SUE
Now I know Why People Get Married
by Valerie Mosley
On Oct. 18, 2014, the Unity of Springfield chapel was decorated with white and purple ribbons and daisies, Mary Hilsabeck's favorite flower. As Mary's daughter, Emily Sappington, helped her into her wedding gown, Sue Huber copied her marriage vows and folded them into her pocket.
After guests saw a video of Sue's proposal, Sue took her place at the altar and watched as Mary came down the aisle to meet her. It was Sue's first glimpse of her bride in her flowing white dress.
"She was more beautiful standing there than I ever imagined, and it just overtook me," said Sue.
Mary was equally overtaken at the sight of Sue.
When asked the question, each answered, "Absolutely, I do."
Their voices wavered when they exchanged vows, each mixing sentiment with humor.
To close the ceremony, the couple stood facing family and friends, as the guests sang a blessing: "May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on."
The guests erupted into a standing ovation as the minister announced: "Sue and Mary Hilsabeck-Huber."
Sue and Mary were "blown away by all the love and support in the room," Sue said.
"I feel so rich, and so special and so blessed." Sue said. "Now I know why people get married."
"It was like tunnel vision. She was the only person that I saw."
Two guests, strangers seated next to each other, rubbed the goosebumps on their arms. The minister, Sue Baggett-Spears, smiled as she wiped her eyes.
After the opening prayer came Sue's wedding gift to Mary, a song she commissioned called "Best Day Ever."
Sue Huber was calling Mary Hilsabeck her "future wife" before they even started dating. She knew they were meant to be together with more certainty than she had ever felt in her 42 years.
She first noticed Mary at a pool party in July 2012.
The next day, back home in Holden, Sue couldn't get Mary out of her mind.
"Oh, Mom, she's just so striking," she said.
"I knew that day that she was moving to Springfield," said Sue's mom, Pat Zvacek.
But Mary, then 51, had just ended a marriage. She wanted to focus on healing and taking care of her kids, Emily, then 16, and Duncan Sappington, then 15.
"I was in no place to consider a relationship or dating or anything," she said.
Still, Mary felt herself falling for Sue when they spent a day together with the kids, volunteering with the Humane Society. She watched the way Sue interacted with people, saw how well she got along with the kids and thought, "Wow. I really like this woman."
Many years before they met, both Mary and Sue struggled to accept being attracted to women.
Mary grew up in the Baptist church. She loved the church but was taught it was sinful to be who she was. She felt she would never be good enough for God. In college, she struggled with depression.
"I spent years not having anything to do with the church because regardless of where I went they were going to tell me I was wrong and I was going to hell for who I was. And I knew I couldn't be anybody different. I tried. My gosh, I can't even tell you the hours and hours I agonized and prayed and cried and sobbed asking God to take this away and to make me different," Mary said.
As a teenager, Sue, raised Catholic, also cried out to God to change her.
Neither thought she'd ever get married.
Sue's mom was more accepting than the church. She wasn't surprised when Sue came out to her. Pat Zvacek just wanted her daughter to be happy.
"I think when you love people there can't be a sin," Zvacek said.
At first, Mary was guarded. She wasn't sure if she was ready for a relationship. She worried teenagers and family life would change Sue.
Sue told Mary, "Let me take care of me." After that, Mary was all in.
Nine months after the first date, Sue and Mary rented a house together in the Midtown neighborhood, a new start for them, Emily and Duncan.
"My life changed drastically but in a totally good way. I wouldn't trade it for the world," Sue said. "I adore those kids."
Soon after, Sue proposed with her grandmother's ring. And Mary said yes.
Ashley Leinweber was among many friends gathered for the proposal.
"They just glow around each other all the time. I don't know if I've ever seen a couple that happy all the time," she said.
They began making wedding plans but faced obstacles most couples don't. They couldn't legally marry in their own state. Mary, previously married in another state but separated, was having difficulty getting a divorce in Missouri. They were hurt by a relative who accepted their relationship but not the marriage.
But the couple was undeterred.
"I just think we knew it was going to happen," Sue said.
Same-sex couples around the country are eager to share the benefits of legal marriage, and many are hopeful they'll be able to now that the Supreme Court has agreed to rule in a case that likely will decide if states must allow same-sex marriage.
Most important to Mary and Sue are survivor benefits for federal employees, the right to inherit property, and being able to make medical decisions for each other.
"I want her making my decisions for me because she knows me, she's the one that knows me the best," said Sue.
The emotional benefits are just as important to Mary. Marriage brings validation and an honest way to describe the importance of the relationship.
"This is not just my partner. She's not just my girlfriend. She's my wife. And that's significant. This is the most significant person in my life," said Mary.
In May 2014, Judge Mark Powell granted Mary's divorce.
"This couple was married legally in another state," he told the News-Leader previously. "All I'm doing is giving them a divorce legally in Missouri, giving full faith and credit to the state law under which they were married."
About a month before their wedding ceremony in Springfield, the couple realized it was time to decide where to legally wed.
"What would really be nice is if we could get married here, during our ceremony," Sue said.
But they couldn't.
They had originally hoped Eureka Springs would work. But the legality in Arkansas toggled back and forth and wasn't an option anymore. They made calls to several states. They decided on Uniontown, Pennsylvania, because they had friends nearby, they liked the name, and the woman on the phone was so happy for them.
As they were making plans, things were changing. On Oct. 3, a Kansas City judge ruled that Missouri must recognize same sex marriages from other states.
"Once we do find a place to get married, we're going to come back here and Missouri's going to have to recognize it," Mary said.
Three days later they had more options to consider. On Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states, legalizing same-sex unions in those states, including nearby Oklahoma.
They settled on Tulsa, because there was no waiting period and they could get there and back in a day.
So after their wedding celebration in Springfield — after all the planning, the involvement of family and friends, the emotional vows and laughter and tears — Mary and Sue had one more step to take.
Arriving at the courthouse in Tulsa two days later, on the second anniversary of their first date, they were anxious. They worried that they might be turned away.
But when they walked up to the license desk, the clerk handed them a form and took their $50. They couldn't believe that it was so easy.
After a stop for coffee, the group was off to friend and ordained minister Chaz Wesley's office. He performed a brief ceremony in the courtyard.
Back at the courthouse to file the license, Emily took selfies as they stood in line between two other couples, Shaun and Morris Williams, together 13 years, and Ashley and Joshua Bullock. They made small talk with the Bullocks, who shared their wedding date. They swapped wedding stories and congratulated each other.
"It would have been nice to get married in our own state," Mary said. "It was perfect the way it happened. It just was. We're really grateful."
"It's so nice to have the government recognize it just like everybody else's," Sue said.
About this story
Photographer Valerie Mosley spent about two months documenting Sue and Mary Hilsabeck-Huber before and after their marriage. She met them in May 2014 while photographing Mary and her kids for a story about the first same-sex divorce granted in Missouri. She thanks Mary, Sue, their family and friends for allowing the News-Leader to tell their story.