Army Captain (retired) Brenda Sue Fulton, best known by her middle name, and her long time partner Penelope Dara Gnesin wed today at the Cadet Chapel at West Point. The ceremony was the first same-sex wedding at the Cadet Chapel, though Army 1st Lieutenant Ellen Schick married Shannon Simpson at the Old Cadet Chapel, which is a smaller venue on the Academy grounds.
Fulton was a member of the first West Point class to admit women, and now serves at a presidential appointee to its Board of Visitors. Fulton is also the Executive Director for the West Point LGBT organization Knights Out and is part of the combined Board for OutServe-SLDN.
Fulton stated that “West Point holds special significance to both me and Penny. From the time I was a cadet, what West Point stands for – integrity, leadership, selfless service – have been my touchstones. When Penny and I worked on ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we kept coming back to the core value of integrity, and that’s what made a difference. To be able to legalize our union here, especially at the Cadet Chapel, is really important to us.”
The couple have been together since 1995 when they met during a community sing that Gnesin attended with singer-songwriter Carolyn McDade.
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson stated “Witnessing the joining of Sue and Penny in holy matrimony in this sacred place means a great deal to gay and lesbian alumni of West Point, and to all LGBT service members. It sends a clear message that we, too, are part of the ‘Long Gray Line’ of graduates and that we will not back down until our families receive the same respect and the same benefits other military families do. We at OutServe-SLDN are so proud of Sue and Penny and wish them many more happy years together.”
Robinson and her wife Danyelle attended the ceremony. Both are graduates of West Point and both married at Cadet Chapel in 1994 prior to Robinson’s sex change.
Fulton and Gnesin had planned on marrying in New Jersey, Gnesin’s home state, but that plan was derailed by Governor Chris Christie who vetoed a marriage equality law. Fulton stated that “I just didn’t want to wait any longer. I still hope that our home state will recognize marriage equality, but Penny—as strong as she is—is a breast cancer survivor, and has been dealing with Multiple Sclerosis for more than ten years. We cannot wait for a governor who thinks everyone should get to vote on whether, after 17 years together, we are really married.”
Gnesin said about being able to have the ceremony at West Point that “It feels like the end of an era of repression, of inequality – and end to the time of ‘you’re not good enough.’ I feel like I can hold my head up higher, stand up straighter, with the person I’ve chosen to spend my life with.”
OutServe-SLDN let us know that:
Sue, 53, works at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. She was honorably discharged from the Army at the rank of captain.
She is the daughter of Benjamin D. and Clara Bevis Fulton of Lakeland, FL. Her father, a Navy veteran, was a teacher at Martin County High School. Her mother, who is also retired, was the first female principal at Martin County High School.
Penny, 52, is a holistic healer and director of the women’s choir, Giving Voice. She graduated from Rutgers University and is medically retired from AT&T.
She is a daughter of Oscar and Sylvia Katz Gnesin of Long Branch, N.J., both deceased. Her mother was a history teacher and an attorney for the local teachers’ union. Her father worked as an electrical engineer for the U.S. government.
Giving Voice, a women’s a cappella chorus, was founded by Penny 18 months ago, and is based at the Universal Unitarian Congregation of Monmouth County, Lincroft, N.J. Giving Voice was joined by three members of Olympia’s Daughters, founded and directed by Penny from 1989 to 2009.
The couple is postponing their honeymoon until next year.