Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Maryland, Frederick couple with Down syndrome celebrates 25 years together

From The Gazette in Maryland:

The bride wore white and her groom was all smiles as she walked down the aisle Sept. 17, escorted by her father. The couple exchanged rings and vows of commitment, and enjoyed their first dance.

However, the couple, Jeanne Waters and Charles Wisner of Frederick, are not your average bride and groom. They both have Down syndrome, and because of their developmental disabilities are unable to marry.

But on Saturday, they were joined together in a commitment ceremony held at the Scott Key Center, where they met and became boyfriend and girlfriend 25 years ago. The center is a division of the Frederick County Health Department that provides jobs for people with developmental disabilities.

"They've been Jeanne and Charlie forever,” said Portia Hood, an instructor at the center. “They could get married, but I don’t think they could carry on a household. They sit together every day at lunch, and Charlie makes sure everything is right for Jeanne. They have been very committed to each other for 25 years."

Jeanne, 47, and Charles, 38, live in separate group homes in Frederick and will continue to do so. "They can't live together at this point," Hood said.

But after 25 years, the Scott Key Center wanted to do something to honor this special relationship.

Hood said the idea was to have a simple pizza party in the park. But the pizza party blossomed into a ceremony with blue and white table settings, flowers, balloons, food and music, thanks to help from the Frederick Area Bridal Network, a nonprofit organization that helps brides and grooms plan their wedding.

As the Rev. David Beeson, the former director of the Scott Key Center, officiated over the ceremony, with words of love and friendship, Charles smiled and wiped away tears. Jeanne held tightly onto her bouquet, at one point asking to sit down.

"We're almost done, I promise you," Beeson told Jeanne.

Chairs were eventually provided for Jeanne and Charles, as friends were asked to say a few words about the couple.

They exchanged rings and gave each other a hug at the conclusion of the ceremony.

"It might be raining, but the sun is shining for both of you," Beeson said, referring to the inclement weather Saturday.

Before the ceremony, family members expressed excitement, saying they thought this would never happen.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him,” said the groom's sister, Jennifer Wolfe of Emmitsburg.

Jeanne's sister agreed.

"This is wonderful," said Kathy Faia, who traveled from New Orleans to attend. “[Jeanne] is so excited. I didn't think this would ever happen. It's really something special."