Even as  same-sex couples in Maine and Maryland ready to say their vows, today is the third anniversary of Mayor Adrian Fenty signing marriage equality into law in the District of Columbia.

Not bad for a town that has no congressional representation!

In honor of the occasion, Freedom to Marry is spotlighting JaLissa and Janell Coffee-Sterrett, just one of the many couples who have codified their relationship since the law took effect in March 2010.

JaLissa and Janell married on September 10, 2011 in Washington, D.C., where they now live and work as educators. The women met at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Club Day on the Mall, a regular start-of-semester event at the university where student organizations could share information and recruit new members. Janell was there representing a praise dance group, where members express religion and faith through dance, and JaLissa was interested. She had been involved in a similar organization in her hometown, and she was excited to stay involved with it in school.

They became fast friends after spending time together at a house-warming party for Janell and her college roommates in Fall of 2006. “She and I were glued to each other that night,” JaLissa said. “We talked until five o’clock in the morning, and then that next day, we talked from 10 o’clock in the morning through the rest of the day.” At the time, Janell had not yet accepted that she was a lesbian. “I had committed to completely igorning it and praying it away,” she said. “I was doing my very best to ‘fight the urge’ until Jo came along – and obviously, my fight was not successful (thank God).”

JaLissa and Janell bonded over the fact that they are both “Preacher’s Kids” with very religious, very conservative families. “That presented its share of challenges,” JaLissa said. “It became increasingly difficult when we realized we were falling in love – and neither of us had come out of the closet to family or friends.” JaLissa added, “That was the struggle: We struggled with what we were taught and what we believed and what we felt. We had a very difficult journey making peace with who we thought we were and the God that we loved.”

Janell graduated from Xavier in 2008, and JaLissa graduated the next year, by which time she had come out to her parents and told them that she was in love with Janell. “That was when were were like, ‘This is us. We’re going to be together forever,'” JaLissa said. In December of 2009, Janell proposed to JaLissa, slipping a ring on her finger and whispering three words: “Welcome to Forever.”

Congrats to the Coffee-Stewarts, and all the DC couples who have tied the knot!

Photos: Kyu Lee Photography 

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