It was a dream come true for a US homeless couple. The groom wore a black tuxedo, a damask-rose pink waistcoat and tie, and a ear-to-ear smile.
He picked out his wedding outfit at a mall in Virginia -- his first time ever in one of the sprawling shopping centers that are monuments to consumerism in the suburban landscape across the United States.
AdvertisementDuring his 14 years living homeless on the streets of Washington, Dante White, 28, never realized that so much opulence existed. Nor had he had much luck in love in his life, having been thrown out of his mother's home when he was just 14.
Last week, White married Nhiahni Chestnut, 39, a woman whose battles with drugs and alcohol had left her on the streets of the US capital as well. Both are unemployed.
"I was basically living from day to day, trying to survive, and I wound up meeting him," Chestnut told AFP at the couple's wedding, held in the tiny chapel of Grace Episcopal Church in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood.
"Something clicked, the chemistry was there," said the bride, dressed in a flowing white ensemble with a pink flower.
"We've been together ever since. That was nine years ago. He was outside. It kind of clicked because we were in kind of the same situation. We started hanging out with each other, talking," she said.
The two also frequented a Bible study and meal program run by Grace Episcopal Church on Saturdays. It was there, a few months ago, that White, 28, revealed to a parishioner how much he wished he could afford to marry the woman who had brought light into his life on the streets.
"Everyone at the church feels strongly that you don't need to have money to get married," said Margaret Davis.
"In good Grace church congregation fashion, everyone got behind the idea: one person managed flowers, I helped with the wedding rings, one woman made the cake, someone helped with the tux and someone else with the bride's gown," she said.
Another churchgoer paid for a two-night honeymoon stay at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel across the Potomac River in Virginia.
For Pastor John Graham, marrying White and Chestnut was a first, but in many other ways, it was just like marrying any other couple.
"It's the same occasion for joy, the bride and groom are extremely nervous, and so am I," he told AFP.
"The difference is, they're homeless."
After the service, the bride and groom posed for photos and, in the church annex where they gather on Saturdays for Bible study and a meal, they fed each other slices of chocolate layer cake.
Cameras clicked and whirred, and as two of Washington's best jazz musicians played a smoochy version of "Take the A-train," the couple had their first dance.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams. This is exactly how I wanted my wedding to be," said the bride.
The couple's break from the streets, however, will be brief.
Soon, their dream wedding and honeymoon will be just a memory as they face the very real battle to survive on the mean streets of Washington, where White says: "You have to sleep with one eye open."
Now that he's married his true love, White longs for nothing more than a roof over their heads, a place they can call home, where they can "cook pork chops and rice for ourselves," he told AFP.
And having pulled off the miracle nuptials, Grace Church parishioners are working on the next steps of building a future for the couple: looking for affordable housing, money to pay a security deposit and a few bits and pieces to allow them to set up house together.
"There is a certain element of urgency to this," said Davis.
"Love will get them through so much, but at the end of the day they do need housing," she said.