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On Valentine’s Day and any day at Jacksonville’s Rainbow Wedding Chapel, ‘love is love’

Couple exchanging vows while toddler plays on grass aisle.

When engaged couples came into the Rainbow Wedding Chapel in downtown Jacksonville on Valentine’s Day, business owner Selecia Young-Jones gave them smiles and asked them the same question.

So what’s your love story?

On Valentine’s Day four years ago, she was his Lyft driver. Mike Estronza and his uncle were looking for a ride. Kelsey Murphy was their driver. They started talking when Mike’s phone was dying and she offered the use of her charger. He soon asked for her phone number.

“And he texted me before I even left the parking lot,” she said. “He didn’t play the cool game at all.”

After their wedding ceremony at Rainbow Wedding Chapel, Kelsey thought back to the day they met and how miraculous it was that everything worked out so that came to be: She just happened to be the driver who was close enough to get that call, and Mike was going to call an Uber but his uncle instead said he’d call a Lyft.

“That was the day we met, and it’s always been a special day to us,” she said. “Everything had to align for us to meet.”

And now, four Valentine’s Days later, there they were at the Rainbow Wedding Chapel with his 8-year-old daughter, Delilah, and their 13-month-old son, Julius, who kind of stole the show, walking and crawling around them during the ceremony, being all charming and funny.

Everyone under the rainbow

Young-Jones, who owns the chapel at 491 W Forsyth St., is 65 and loves this work far more than her previous life as a railroad signaller, where she was climbing poles, digging ditches, maintaining tracks and signals.

Now, she’s asked: On Valentine’s Day, what has she learned about love, doing this?

Young-Jones, who owns the chapel at 491 W Forsyth St., is 65 and loves this work far more than her previous life as a railroad signaller, where she was climbing poles, digging ditches, maintaining tracks and signals.

Now, she’s asked: On Valentine’s Day, what has she learned about love, doing this?

“Well, there’s an old line,” she said, “in a very, very old poem, and it says, ‘Love is love, in beggars and in kings.’ That’s one of the things that people don’t realize, that it doesn’t matter who you are or what station in life you are from — love is love. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or young or old, or black or white, or gay or straight. It doesn’t matter. You can’t discount love.”

Young-Jones became a notary in 2017 and was soon performing marriages inside Maddy D’s, a cafe near the Duval County Courthouse. When a site became available around the corner — a closed Pita Pit restaurant on the ground floor of a courthouse parking garage — she took it, renovated it and opened Rainbow Wedding Chapel. That was on April 1 last year.

Inside are benches for guests and two main backdrops for ceremonies: one a garden scene, the other a beach scene. Outside, there are colorful spinning whirligigs, as well as Pearl, an inflatable dancing bride who flaps her arms in the air, like those figures you might see outside a car lot.

There are rainbows in the window, and a rainbow-colored sign that says “EVERYONE WELCOME.” That fits with her motto, “Marrying everyone under the rainbow.”

And that’s just what she’s done. Anyone from teenagers to a couple in their 90s. Republicans, Democrats and independents. People of all races, including some interracial couples who told her that they had been turned down by other officiants.

“In 2024!” she exclaimed. Then she sighed. “Loving v. Virginia, 1967. I mean, it’s not against the law. But, you know, old ideas run deep, whether they’re right or wrong.”

And of course, Young-Jones performs ceremonies for same-sex couples, who make up about 10% of her business.

After same-sex marriage became legal in Florida in 2015, the clerk of courts in Duval County began providing marriage licenses to all but stopped performing courthouse weddings — a longtime tradition — because some clerks objected to officiating at gay marriages.

Rainbow Wedding Chapel, strategically located next to the courthouse, is happy to get business from anyone.

“Some of the straight couples come here especially because we are an inclusive place,” said Young-Jones, who is gay. “They say, ‘We really love what you’re doing.’ It is awesome. The LGBTQ people need allies because, let’s face it, we’re outnumbered. We need allies.”

Tying the knot in their 50s

So what’s your love story?

On Valentine’s Day 10 years ago, he finally told her he loved her.

Gary Savage and Beatrice Epps met on Match.com in 2012, each separately thinking that if they didn’t meet someone they liked at the end of the free trial period, they’d just forget about it all. But then he saw her picture and clicked …

Beatrice, who’s now 55, was in Interlachen; Gary, 56, was in Jacksonville. After some emailing back and forth, they started going to Riverside Park, and he had a book of 100 questions from which he’d pick a question or two to ask her. So that’s how they got to know each other.

“He is so romantic,” she said. “It’s really nice.”

They’d met online in 2012, but it wasn’t until Valentine’s Day in 2014 that he said he loved her. “It took him a while,” she said, laughing. “He said he had to see me in all the seasons.”

So they figured this Valentine’s Day would be a fine occasion to finally get married, though he notes that once he did confess his love, he tried to get things moving more quickly.

“Well, I told her I wanted to get married within five years after we met.” Then he smiled. “It’s a long game.”

Rush hour at Rainbow Wedding Chapel

As the lunch hour approached on Valentine’s Day, there were dozens of people inside the chapel to attend back-to-back weddings, while outside a couple dozen more people, most in colorful wedding attire, waited to get in.

Young-Jones charges $100 a wedding Monday through Friday for up to 10 people (prices go up as more people come).

Sometimes she jokes to the parents, “Hey, I just saved you 30 grand.”

She is quick with a quip, but this is serious stuff for her. “I really believe what I’m doing, and I love saying these sweet words to these people. It’s a very intimate moment,” she said.

As a notary, she can officiate at civil marriages and is also credentialed as a minister with the Universal Life Church. She’s a Christian and is happy to include prayer in the ceremony for those who would like it.

She said she’s wondered if she’ll ever get tired of conducting weddings but then decided that’s unlikely, not even after performing more than a thousand. It’s just too important.

Sweet! Jacksonville chocolatier aims to hand-dip 100,000 Valentine’s Day strawberries

“You can see when those tears are just about to start, you can see the real happiness and the real gravity of what they’re doing,” Young-Jones said. “This is a life-changing moment.”

The chapel performed 10 weddings on this Valentine’s Day. Busy, but not as busy as the 24 she officiated on Feb. 22, 2022, or 2-22-22.

People love numbers, she says.

High school sweethearts

Brian Dunn and Brianna Cheley met in high school, at Terry Parker. They must have passed each other in the hallways dozens of times but didn’t meet until he saw her talking with a friend of his.

“Then I was like, ‘Oh, let me introduce myself,'” he said, chuckling.

The attraction was there from the beginning. “He was just way more mature, different. He wasn’t just all about what boys are thinking about during school years,” she said. “I am so blessed.”

They’ve been together more than six years. “With forever to go,” Brianna said.

They’re now both 23, with a 5-year-old son and a baby daughter on the way. Rosalind Balkcom, a notary and officiant who helps out on Rainbow’s busy days, led their ceremony while Brianna’s grandmother, Jacqueline Yulee, and Brian’s father, Greg Dunn, looked on approvingly.

The young couple wrote their own vows and read them to each other in soft voices.

Brian’s, in part, went like this: “You’re more than just my girlfriend and my wife. You’re my best friend, and I’m happy to call you my soulmate for the rest of our lives. I love you. Can’t wait to start our new chapter.”

Then Brianna read hers, which ended this way. “A million words can’t describe my love for you, but just know that I’m here for you forever and always, for you and our beautiful family. I love you.”

Clapping came from the benches of those waiting for the next wedding, and Balkcom handed Brianna a tissue from a nearby box. It was needed.

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