Military Matrimony

By Laura Latzko, Jan. 1, 2015.

One local couple’s wedding ceremony made history at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix Dec. 13.

After 27 years together, Claveese “Barbara” and Janice Coleman formalized their union during the medical center’s first-ever same-sex wedding ceremony.

Barbara, 62, wore a tuxedo and Janice, 48, donned a white dress adorned with beads and lace as they exchanged their vows in an intimate ceremony in the medical center’s chapel.

Barbara, a U.S. Army veteran, has been going to the hospital for about 18 years – since the women moved to Phoenix and decided to come out as a couple. Before, they recalled, they didn’t often disclose their relationship to others.

“To take someone in marriage is a big thing. It speaks volumes to people that this is your one true love that you want to stay married to for the rest of your life. This is your soul mate. This is someone you want to grow old with,” Barbara said. “It makes me feel powerful. It makes me feel important.”

The couple spent the month leading up to their wedding – which fell on 12/13/14, a popular numerical date for weddings – working to secure the medical center’s chapel as their wedding venue.

Initially, the couple was given the go-ahead to exchange their vows their at the chapel, a site they agreed was more meaningful than a courthouse. Then, two weeks later, were informed that the space was only available for hospital patients.

“The chapel is designed for hospitalized patients to tend to their spiritual needs as well as family members,” Jean M. Schaefer, Phoenix VA Health Care System spokesperson. “We need to make sure our first priority, in terms of use of the chapel, is aligned with the needs of hospitalized patients.”

According to Schaefer, the hospital doesn’t have an official policy on the chapel’s use.

“I had the determination,” Barbara said. “I have served my country. I served it honorably for the time that I could, that you owe me this now.”

Ultimately, the wedding took place and, Schaefer added that administrators are currently working on a draft of a new policy.

“It means a lot that after all these years, it is legal,” Janice said. “We both have the same benefits as any other person that gets married.”

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