BY AJ TRAGER
CINCINNATI – Every week, more and more LGBT couples are finally tying the knot. Couples that have been denied access to equal protection under the law are now able to share in the joy of matrimony, and Betty Olding, 71, and Jenny Schumacher, 83, are one such couple.
When Olding and Schumacher met in 1972, Schumacher was working as a nurse and Olding worked at AT&T. Schumacher was married, had three children and rarely, if ever, stirred the pot. She did what was expected and followed a closeted path that many in her generation did.
“I was always thinking in the back of my head about who I would be and who I was,” Schumacher recalled. “And then I found somebody who I had an affair with. That’s when Betty came into the picture. That’s when we got together and I accepted who I was. I got divorced and here we are.”
Over the last 43 years Olding and Schumacher have seen it all and stuck by one another through good times and bad times, through sickness and health. They were legally married before 70 family members and friends on Sept. 26 by longtime friend and Detroit pastor, Deb Dysert of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit. Their autumn wedding consisted of dancing, vows and the blending of the sands ceremony, their alternative to the more traditional unity candle.
They try to follow the rules of KISS, or “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and don’t try to do anything super elaborate. Their September wedding was their third commitment ceremony following one in 1998 and then their civil union in 2001.
They spent much of their relationship keeping their love a secret. Or, at least, keeping it mostly quiet in public. Tennis shoes became a meaningful signal for them and their love. They now have tennis shoes printed on pins that rest on their necklines and had tennis shoes frosted onto their wedding cake.
Schumacher moved in with Olding in 1973 and gave custody of her children to her former husband. At that time Olding and Schumacher “couldn’t tell anybody” and they were worried what sort of treatment the kids would receive in school if the administration and the students were to hear about their relationship.
“That’s when we started our thing about tennis shoes,” Olding described. “We have a pin around our neck. We would say tennis shoes and that meant, ‘I love you.'”
Schumacher had a stroke in February of this year, a situation that Olding says made her closer to her spouse.
“I never thought about saving money, or worrying about this or that,” Olding said. “I never thought about it. I have grown too, myself. Especially since the stroke. You take on a whole new responsibility. I just think that we grew into a oneness.”
They say the trick to a long-lasting partnership is honest communication. They value one another and agree that open and constant communication is the best way to ensure couples stay on the same page and connected throughout the curves of life.
“I think it’s wonderful that anybody can get married,” Olding said. “This isn’t the old saying that you take your U-Haul on the second date. You really have to think about this and you’re in for it. If you’re in it, there’ll be disagreements. You have to work together.”
They caution young couples who, in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, are eager to get married to their partners. Schumacher and Olding think some young couples may rush into things and they offer their advice as often as it is well received.
“My advice: think about it. And talk. And talk. Honesty: that is one thing that we have tried to do with each other. We have gotten mad and stormed at each other. Bottom line to the whole thing is you need to talk about things and know exactly what you will do and why you are going to do it. Think. Talk and be honest,” Olding said. “I am excited for everybody getting married, but it is a commitment that is binding. And isn’t something that is just a flick of the pen. Think, talk and be honest. Then decide to go ahead with it.”