Each June, the Bario Neal team celebrates Pride Month — and all year, every year, we love working with clients shopping for engagement rings and wedding rings who tell us how much they value our intentionally inclusive showrooms. We’re longtime supporters of worldwide marriage equality, and we want that moment to feel special for everyone who walks through our doors, regardless of age, orientation, or gender.
From the start of our fine jewelry business, Bario Neal Principals + Lead Designers Anna Bario and Page Neal wanted to undermine the heteronormativity of the wedding industry. The whole Bario Neal team has been rejecting stereotypes ever since.
That’s one reason, according to Jude Meckling and Jo Fricker, we get to work with amazing couples like them.
Jude recalls that they struggled with finding the right jeweler when they decided to buy wedding rings. “We’re both senior citizens marrying for the first time. We’re lesbians. And I had a lot of anxiety about doing this because it was really important to me that we have someone who would not have a shadow of hesitation, who would be really happy that two women were coming to them to get married,” she says.
Then Jude’s sister in Arkansas found Bario Neal online.
“The other thing that was important to me and to Jo was that we wanted ethically sourced jewels,” Jude says. “Bario Neal is ethical not only in sourcing diamonds but in all their precious metals. That one of their purposes also is to make sure that all persons of any gender combination were totally welcome and celebrated as they were selecting jewelry for any purpose — well, we were totally thrilled.”
Jo says she was wowed when Jude sent her Bario Neal’s website. “Then separately, we each immediately picked the same ring,” she notes. They booked an appointment to visit the Bario Neal showroom in Philadelphia but, they joke, they had made up their minds by the time they’d arrived that they’d be buying matching Crescent Hammered Diamond Rings.
The ring’s bezel set diamonds are ideal for Jude, who loves to dig in the garden and didn’t want a ring with a high prong setting. Both women appreciate the handcrafting that goes into Bario Neal’s rings. “Jo is a crafter. I have always been a supporter of crafters and go out of my way to find local crafters,” Jude says. “So we both have an eye for beautiful crafting, and that’s something that really informed our wanting to go with Bario Neal as well.”
Jo and Jude met through their church, which is Episcopal, a Christian denomination. Jo was an active leader in a congregation that was struggling to survive. They hired Jude as a part-time priest to help them turn things around. Eventually, Jo became Jude’s right-hand woman, assisting with supporting the congregation. Once a month the two had to travel to Collegeville for church business. Every time, at the same intersection, they’d get lost on the way. Eventually, their repeated mishap turned into a running joke. “We’d get giggling,” Jo says. Then, Jo experienced a few health issues and ended up living with Jude for several months while she recovered.
“That’s when we realized that we had more than just a close friendship,” Jude says. “We realized we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives without each other.” Last December, Jo bought necklaces for each of them that commemorate that laughter-inducing intersection from the Collegeville journey, their version of engagement jewelry. “On January 1st,” Jo says, “we drove to that intersection and made a commitment to each other that we would get married.”
They’ll start wearing their Bario Neal wedding rings at their June 2nd wedding at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. They’re planning a day full of people they love, many of different faiths. In addition to getting married, the couple will be celebrating the knocking down of more than one obstacle.
In 1986, Jude was the first woman ordained in the Episcopal Church in Oregon. Back then (and until 2009), the denomination at the national level didn’t accept gays and lesbians as ordained priests. “It was a really tough thing for me. I performed weddings for years, but I could not be married myself. I could not openly be a lesbian,” Jude says.
Each church’s inclusiveness (or lack of it) varied from place to place, Jude explains. When she returned home to Pennsylvania 22 years ago to care for her mother — well before she met Jo — she found some acceptance. “I had had enough. I had put aside a large part of who I am to be a priest in the church. I went to my bishop and said, ‘Here’s my collar. If I can’t be my whole self, then I’ll find some other way to serve and help people.’ And he looked me in the eye, and he said, ‘Jude, you will always be welcome here. And if you have a partner, she is welcome as well.’ I had never heard that in the church. I burst into tears.”
Of course, there were government hurdles to marriage equality too, though Pennsylvania did finally legalize same-sex marriage in 2014.
There is one point of progress, however, that Jude and Jo are particularly excited about. Last November, the Episcopal Church officially approved a new open wedding liturgy with inclusive language that can be used in a service regardless of the couple’s genders. “We will probably be the first [lesbian] couple in the Philadelphia area to use this wedding service,” Jude says.
“This is a senior citizen wedding of people who never dreamed that we could be married by a priest in a church. This is a big deal.”– Jude
Jo and Jude look at their wedding rings as powerful symbols of a right they’ve waited years to claim. “I’ll be 67 in a few weeks, and it’s my first marriage. Jo is 64, and it’s her first marriage. So this is very emotional for both of us, and getting the rings is part of that,” Jude says. “This is a senior citizen wedding of people who never dreamed that we could be married by a priest in a church. This is a big deal.”
They appreciate that Bario Neal was part of the moment. “They were a perfect fit for us,” Jude says, “to find someone that we didn’t even have to ask the question, ‘Are you OK with dealing with us in this very emotional, major moment of our lives?’”
Successes like the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 U.S. states and the need to continue expanding LGBTQIA rights are why Bario Neal believes Pride Month is so significant. We know the fight for total equality isn’t over. We donate to groups that advocate for the LGBTQIA community, and we encourage our clients and blog readers to do the same this June. Jude and Jo shared two organizations they’d especially love for you to support in Philadelphia: William Way LGBT Community Center and LGBT Elder Initiative.