MOUNT VERNON — Sav Webb and Sigrid Manna eloped — for free — at an LGBTQ bed-and-breakfast, standing in front of a donkey, two witnesses and an officiant as they declared their love for each other.
The couple from Chicago found themselves in Mount Vernon on a Sunday afternoon this fall at a time when LGBTQ activists are concerned about their civil rights — including marriage equality — as the nation awaits a final vote on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court and the results of the presidential election.
Webb, 26, who is nonbinary and bisexual, and Manna, 27, a transgender woman, said getting married was a long time coming. They met in college and have been jokingly referring to each other as “wife” for the past year, Webb said.
It’s also brought them some peace of mind at a time of turmoil for the LGBTQ community.
“One note of happiness I want to put out there,” Manna said. “You can be a trans woman, in a loving relationship at a time when the government is trying to take your rights away.”
Owners of the Thistle’s Summit bed-and-breakfast, Marti Payseur and Ash Bruxvoort, announced on social media it is offering free “elopements” to LGBTQ couples up to and for a few weeks after the election.
Thistle’s Summit, 812 Summit Ave. SW in Mount Vernon, is the first B&B in the area meant for the LGBTQ community. It opened in August 2019, but closed in March for the pandemic and has not reopened to guests.
Bruxvoort said the couple felt “called” to offer free weddings to LGBTQ couples. So far, they have married two couples and have more on the calendar through December.
“Queer people are really scared,” Bruxvoort said. “It’s our mission to make people feel safe and comfortable and taken care of. This moment was more important to do safely than us maintaining our quarantine.”
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In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court made Iowa the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage — a “not that distant memory,” Bruxvoort said.
In 2015, a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling making it nationwide. However, two of the justices in that majority are no longer on the court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, retired in 2018. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last month.
With a U.S. Senate vote expected soon to approve conservative Judge Barrett’s nomination to the court, Bruxvoort is concerned about the future of same-sex marriage rights.
In an Oct. 4 letter to Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley from Lambda Legal, a national organization advocating the civil rights of LGBTQ people, 27 LGBTQ groups opposed the confirmation of Barrett.
Barrett served for three years on the board of a private Christian school that held policies discriminating against LGBTQ people and their children. The school refused admission to children of same-sex parents and did not hire openly gay and lesbian teachers, according to a report by the Associated Press.
LGBTQ couples worry
Bruxvoort and Payseur are engaged themselves and were planning to get married until the coronavirus caused them to cancel their plans.
While they understand why some LGBTQ couples are in a rush to get married now, they’re concerned about their future safety if same-sex marriage is overturned or President Donald Trump is reelected — possibly, Bruxvoort said, stroking more hated toward gay people.
“There’s this weight of we want our love and our partnership and our family to be recognized, but there is so much unknown,” Payseur said. “I think there’s a risk that ceremonies performed now could be invalidated. We don’t want the turmoil and heartache of going through that process.”
The B&B owners are working with other businesses to provide the free elopements. Both Payseur and Bruxvoort are ordained to perform weddings and have experience in event planning.
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Jenni Chung Photography, based in Des Moines, has volunteered its services for wedding photography. Rebecca Mueller of Locust Grove Farms brought her donkey, Violet, to be the flower girl at Webb and Manna’s wedding. Some private donations of money came in as well for flowers and cake.
As owners of an LGBTQ B&B, Payseur and Bruxvoort always have suggestions for their guests at the ready.
“A recommendation of restaurant is not just about their food,” Payseur said. “Can you hold hands? Do they have queer staff? There’s not a moment when Ash and I don’t do a double check if we’re allowed to hold hands when we’re out in the world.”
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The Associated Press contributed.