Last weekend in Philadelphia, Ingrid Elizabeth Eyen and Tylan “Ty” Greenstein -- wearing a wedding gown and a suit and bow tie, respectively -- stood beneath a flower-adorned Chuppah in front of their friends and family and said, “I do.”
“I would say that you’re my dream come true,” Ingrid said to Ty, reciting the vows she wrote, “but to be honest, I never even dared to dream up a love so perfect and completely fulfilling as yours.”
“I am still amazed every day by everything you are,” Ty told Ingrid. “How you’re so sparkly and gorgeous, and hilarious and talented and sassy, and equally as deep, caring, soulful, and wise.”
The couple cried loudly and happily, along with just about everyone in the crowd of over 100 friends and family members. After exchanging rings, the ceremony concluded with a new twist on the traditional Jewish glass-breaking ritual.
“May the sound of shattering remind us to be awake to life’s surprises,” BFF to the brides and officiant Elaina Ellis said, “and may the fragility of glass remind us that we must treat our relationship with care. Traditionally the groom breaks the glass, so as the two of you do this together, we celebrate equality and new traditions.”
Ty and Ingrid laughed as they stomped on the glass together, and after a warm “Mazel tov!” from the crowd, Ellis announced, “With the trust and love you’ve given to me, and by the powers of social justice which have won marriage equality for the state of Pennsylvania, in the presence of a loving higher power and a universe of untold beauty: I now pronounce you married.” The couple and the wedding party danced down the aisle to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”
In some states, though, love is still not enough. Ingrid is originally from Ohio, one of the states at the center of the marriage equality battle going on via Obergefell v. Hodges with the Supreme Court. Cincinnati resident Jim Obergefell and his partner John Arthur were together for 20 years and were married in Maryland, but following John’s recent death from ALS, the state of Ohio refused to list Jim as the surviving spouse on the death certificate due to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Ingrid and Ty live in Chicago, but they chose Philadelphia for their wedding because it was about halfway between both of their families and would make it easy for Ty’s elderly grandparents to make the journey. When they started planning the wedding, same-sex marriage was still banned in Pennsylvania, so their original plan was to have the ceremony in another state and then travel to Pennsylvania for a reception with family -- but then on May 20th, 2014, just a few weeks into their planning, Pennsylvania became the last state in the Northeast to lift its ban on same-sex marriage.
On that day John Jones, the District Court Judge who struck down the ban, wrote, “We are a better people than what these laws represent. It is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
In a city like Philadelphia, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were drafted, reminders about what's in the “ash heap of history” are everywhere -- from the Liberty Bell to the Betsy Ross House, to the site of the first formal protest against slavery in North America.
“Probably the main argument [against same-sex marriage] is that it goes against the long-standing traditional sense of marriage being between one man and one woman,” said Stephen Eyen, Ingrid’s father, on the night before his daughter’s wedding. Mr. Eyen is a lawyer versed in Constitutional law. Coincidentally, he was in the same graduating class at Harvard as Supreme Court Justice John Roberts -- one of the conservative Justices who's opposed same-sex marriage in the past.
“For me,” Mr. Eyen continued, “that argument has already long been undermined. At one point in our society -- even at the time our Constitution was drafted -- slavery was a longstanding tradition. But then we realized it wasn’t a good one and we needed to change it. Women, at the time the Constitution was drafted, weren’t allowed to own property or to vote. We also had a longstanding tradition of marriage between races being prohibited. Eventually, we realized that these things weren't good traditions, so we got rid of them."
The Eyen family is leading by example, evolving to change its own longstanding traditions when it comes to same-sex marriage.
In 1981, the year Ingrid was born, the musical Dreamgirls, which was written by Ingrid's great uncle Tom Eyen, debuted on Broadway. It later won six Tony Awards and a Grammy for the song, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Tom Eyen’s parents (Ingrid’s great-grandparents) were devout Catholics with seven kids who owned a family restaurant in the small, rural town of Cambridge, Ohio, where Ingrid grew up, and where most of her family still lives. Both Tom and his older brother Richard were gay -- a fact they felt compelled to hide from their family for their whole lives, despite living rich, full lives as artists deeply immersed in New York City’s LGBT community.
According to family members, though he never came out to his family, Tom was an early gay rights activist and may have even been involved with the Stonewall Riots. But once Tom's family discovered his sexual orientation following his death, they still feared that it was something to be ashamed of -- as did just about everyone else. When he died of AIDS-related complications in 1991, the official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest in an effort to keep his sexual orientation a secret.
All living grandparents on both Ingrid’s and Ty’s sides of the family (who are all over 80) attended the wedding. They are all fully, openly in support of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, and they couldn’t be prouder of their gay grandkids. During the reception, the Dreamgirls record sleeve stood propped up prominently on the head table, symbolizing Tom Eyen's inclusion, in spirit, in the celebration.
On its surface, Dreamgirls is a story about marginalized women of color finding empowerment and fame. But it was also Tom Eyen’s story -- a story about what it meant to be “Other” while simultaneously fighting for both civil rights and a place in the spotlight in America. It isn’t hard to imagine how Tom Eyen might feel if he could be here now to see his great-niece getting legally married to a woman in the presence of the whole Cambridge-dwelling family.
“Things change,” Ingrid’s Catholic grandmother said, shrugging. “Even the Church changes. We used to not eat meat on Fridays, and now we do.” She also repeatedly stated that her granddaughter Ingrid is “just the very best girl in the world.”
“For so many people, once it becomes someone they know, they change their opinions,” said Ingrid’s uncle, Eric Eyen. “It goes from ‘Them’ to ‘Us.’ I’m so, so proud of my parents. They were willing to change their minds.”
Ingrid and Ty both said that their families have offered them nothing but love and support from the start of their relationship. In regards to her extended family, Ty said, “I’ve seen them kind of evolve alongside the rest of the country...As gay marriage became something that the majority is supporting, it just turned into a non-issue.”
“Ty’s grandparents have actually championed and celebrate our marriage above anyone else,” said Ingrid. “They get it, because they’ve been together for 70 years, and we have the kind of love that they know for each other. They see it in us, and they just get it.”
Ingrid also pointed out that both of her heterosexual sisters have had weddings, and that they had the privilege of not having to consider which states would support their union.
"We grew up in the same place, with the same mom and dad, same family...and we don't have the same rights," she said. "It's just discrimination."
“I have a lot of hope about the Supreme Court ruling,” Ingrid said. “I hope that the exposure of our love story and other love stories like ours...gives a real reflection of joy and acceptance that will help [the Justices] make their decision on the right side of history.”
Being gay rights trailblazers isn’t the only thing that runs in the family. In addition to being newlyweds, Ty and Ingrid also comprise the band Mouths of Babes. The songs they write and perform together fuse blues, folk, and soul, and the depth of emotion found in their lyrics is reminiscent of all that’s moving about the Dreamgirls soundtrack.
“We hoped somehow it would just get better,” they sing on their EP "Faith and Fumes." “Hope is a thing with feathers. Fly to me.”