Two religious lesbians, Pastor Vanessa Brown and Pastor Twanna Gause, have tied the knot and celebrated their union at the New Vision Full Gospel Baptist Church in New Jersey.
Pastor Twanna Gause stepped out of a limousine amid the whir of cameras outside the New Vision Full Gospel Baptist Church in East Orange, N.J.
Dressed in an off-white wedding gown and veil that sparkled in the cascading sunshine, she carried a bouquet of white roses and lilies, hugged several guests, then parted a sea of well-wishers on the way to her best friend, Pastor Vanessa Brown, who stood waiting at the altar in a cream-colored long coat called a sherwani and gold Punjabi jutti shoes.
The church doors opened, allowing the faint strains of “You Are So Beautiful” to float on the hot August air. Pastor Gause stepped inside, where she was greeted by Bishops Levi Richards and Eugene Gathers, both of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.
“She’s our spiritual daughter,” Bishop Richards said.
Both men walked Ms. Gause down the aisle, a role she had initially hoped would be accepted by her father, the Rev. Sam Gause Sr., a Pentecostal minister who lives in Atlanta.
But Mr. Gause, citing “differences in theological beliefs,” refused his daughter’s invitation.
“My father would not come here because he does not believe in same-s*x marriage,” Ms. Gause said. “He told me the devil tricked me into this, and that if we had been married in biblical times, we would have been stoned to death.”
Mr. Gause, who helped raise four other daughters and a son before divorcing their mother, Cathy Dodson, in 1996, held steadfast in his decision.
“Twanna very well knows I’m not for that kind of lifestyle,” he said by phone in a calm and stern tone several days after the wedding.
“I believe that God wanted us to procreate through a natural process, and by no means am I happy about this because it is unnatural,” he said. “I look at homosexuality as a mental disorder. If I start to tell you that I am an elephant, and start to behave as an elephant, that’s my choice, I choose to become an elephant. But you would probably choose to call a mental institution.”
Mr. Gause, long affiliated with the Center of Hope Church of God in Christ in Riverdale, Ga., said he had no immediate plans to contact his daughter.
“I will talk to her at some point, I suppose, if she calls me, but I will not initiate the call,” he said. “I do have some words for her that she needs to hear. I’m not going to condemn her or judge her because I don’t have that authority, but judgment has already been established by God.”
Ms. Brown, 46, and Ms. Gause, 45, both pastors of Rivers of Living Water United Church of Christ, which has locations in Newark and New York, heard much softer words on their wedding day while holding hands before the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, the presiding bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, who read from the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. … Love hopes and endures all things,” Bishop Flunder read, as amens and hallelujahs rang out from some the 200-plus guests who flocked to celebrate a love that has endured for nearly three decades.
“Twanna and I go way, way back,” Ms. Brown said.
Once upon an Amazing Grace, two choir girls met at a church in Jersey City, and before one of them could clear her throat to sing, she thought she had already caught a glimpse of heaven.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow, what in the world, who’s that, she’s beautiful,’” recalled Ms. Gause, who was then a 16-year-old living in Paterson, N.J. “I immediately felt this kind of strange, warm feeling wash over me, and though I had not yet spoken a word to her, I could see myself loving this woman forever. My head was just spinning.”
Ms. Brown, then 18 and living in New York, was not struck by the same thunderbolt.
“I was oblivious as to how Twanna was feeling,” Ms. Brown said. “I looked at her as this adorable, skinny little girl who I initially thought was so much younger than me, and I had no idea that she liked me in any way other than as a friend.”
Ms. Gause, who said she was hoping for a connection, was crushed. “Though it broke my heart, I never said a word about my true feelings for Vanessa because I didn’t want it to hurt our friendship,” she said. “And I never said a word to my father because he was so strict, I knew he wouldn’t understand.”
Both grew up in religious families — “We didn’t hang on street corners, go to clubs or do drugs, none of that,” Ms. Gause said. But they spent time together at events sponsored by the Hiya Fellowship of the Saviour Church in Jersey City and at LaGree Baptist Church in Harlem, which were linked through a minister who served both congregations.
Their friendship continued to blossom until the day in 1990 when Ms. Gause called Ms. Brown to say that her father was moving the family to Atlanta.
“I was devastated,” Ms. Brown said. “Twanna had become my best friend in the whole world, I didn’t know what I would do without her.”
They kept in touch, and Ms. Gause moved back to Paterson in 1994, and became engaged to a man there, breaking it off in less than a year and returning to Atlanta, where she toured with a gospel choir and worked as a cosmetologist.
“That relationship just didn’t seem right,” Ms. Gause said. “Plus I still had Vanessa on my mind.”
But Ms. Brown, who was by then working as a producer and talent coordinator for “Amateur Night” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, had married a man in 2004.
“Even though I was still in love with Vanessa, I never told her it should have been me,” said Ms. Gause, who did not attend the wedding. “But I knew for sure it shouldn’t have been him.”
Time, and not much of it, proved Ms. Gause right. By May 2005, five months after it began, Ms. Brown’s first marriage was over. “I should have listened to Twanna,” she said.
Later that year, Ms. Brown invited Ms. Gause to give a guest sermon at Oasis of Love, a church in Harlem where she served as an associate pastor.
“We went to dinner and started catching up and talking about our lives,” Ms. Brown said. “Twanna seemed so much more mature than I remembered her, and she was very sound in her preaching.”
For the first time, Ms. Gause began to express her true feelings, and Ms. Brown began seeing her old friend through “a different set of eyes,” as she put it.
After dinner, they strolled through Ms. Brown’s Harlem neighborhood until they came to the brownstone where she lived. They walked up a short flight of stairs, and Ms. Brown reached for a key to open the front door. As she attempted to turn the lock, her hand was suddenly covered by Ms. Gause’s. Ms. Brown turned to find Ms. Gause gazing at her. No words were spoken, though each knew what was coming next.
“She had waited a long time to kiss me, and I knew this was it,” Ms. Brown said. “I was so nervous. My heart started racing.”
For Ms. Gause, it was heaven-sent, and nearly 30 years in the making. “It was a wonderful, wonderful kiss,” she said. “Well worth the wait.”
They began dating long distance, and during a visit to Atlanta in 2006, Ms. Gause introduced Ms. Brown to her father. She told him she was a friend with no elaboration.
“I wasn’t quite ready to tell him,” she said.
Two years later, Ms. Gause was ready. She and Ms. Brown, in Atlanta to attend a religious conference, arranged a family meeting at the home of Ms. Gause’s mother, who also lives in Atlanta, to tell them that they were together.
“My father didn’t take it too well,” Ms. Gause said.