Amanda Fulton via Associated Press
Brides Penelope Gnesin, seated, and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, hold hands during their wedding, Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Cadet Chapel, the landmark Gothic church that is a center for spiritual life at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was hosting its first same-sex wedding Saturday.
Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, were exchanging vows in the regal church in an afternoon ceremony attended by around 250 guests and conducted by a senior Army chaplain.
The two have been together for 17 years. They had a civil commitment ceremony that didn't carry any legal force in 1999 but had longed hoped to formally tie the knot. The way was cleared last year, when New York legalized same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama lifted the "Don't ask, don't tell," policy prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military.
The brides both live in New Jersey and would have preferred to have the wedding there, but the state doesn't allow gay marriage.
"We just couldn't wait any longer," Fulton told The Associated Press in a phone interview Saturday. They wanted to get married quickly also because Gnesim, 52, is a breast cancer survivor with multiple sclerosis, USA Today reported.
Cadet Chapel, Fulton said, was a more-than-adequate second choice.
"It has a tremendous history, and it is beautiful. That's where I first heard and said the cadet prayer," Fulton said, referring to the invocation that says, "Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won."
The ceremony will be the second same-sex wedding at West Point. Last weekend, two of Fulton's friends, a young lieutenant and her partner, got married in another campus landmark, the small Old Cadet Chapel in West Point's cemetery.
Fulton has campaigned against the ban on gays in the military as a board member of two groups representing gay and lesbian servicemen and servicewomen. She graduated in 1980 in the first West Point class to include women.
“I was just a small town kid awed by West point and I loved the Army. I was so proud that we created a legacy that opened doors for so many young women leaders to serve and make our army stronger,” Fulton said in a statement posted to YouTube. “Gay and lesbian soldiers no longer have to hide their lives and their families – makes them stronger, makes our army stronger, makes our military stronger.”
Fulton said the only hassle involved in arranging her ceremony came when she was initially told that none of West Point's chaplains were authorized by their denominations to perform same-sex weddings.
Luckily, she said, they were able to call on a friend, Army Chaplain Col. J. Wesley Smith. He is the senior Army chaplain at Dover Air Force Base, where he presides over the solemn ceremonies held when the bodies of soldiers killed in action oversees return to U.S. soil.
The couple planned on adding other military trappings to their wedding, including a tradition called the saber arch, where officers or cadets hold their swords aloft over the newlyweds as they emerge from the church.
Sue Fulton, who married Saturday at West Point's historic Cadet Chapel, discusses the significance of the end of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military.
NBC's Isolde Raftery contributed to this report.
More content from NBCNews.com:
- Passengers killed when tour bus hits Miami airport overpass
- Women warriors pass elite Army training course
- Teacher lured boys online to get nude pics, cops say
- Video: Mystery man could be missing Powerball winner
- 66 species of coral proposed for protection by US
- College students witness murder suicide in class