National Coming Out Day: The story of a couple who made headlines about their equal rights battle

Today is National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate, News 12 has the story of a couple who made national headlines and was even featured in a documentary called Love Wins about their battle for equal rights.

News 12 Staff

Oct 11, 2021, 11:49 AM

Updated 920 days ago

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Today is National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate, News 12 has the story of a couple who made national headlines and was even featured in a documentary called Love Wins about their battle for equal rights. 
It was a love story that spanned more than a half century, but most of the decades were spent in the closet for Emily Sonnessa and Jan Moore.
In June, Sonnessa passed away at the age of 91. News 12 spoke with Moore about her life with Sonnessa – her activism, and her continued pledge to educate other seniors. Their public coming out story began on the Ocean Grove boardwalk in the early 2000s.  
Sonnessa and Jan Moore met in 1962. Their love for one another grew, but behind a wall of bigotry, prejudice and fear.
"I guess we both felt sorry for ourselves every now and then," says Moore, who is a Civil Rights advocate. "You'd be at a wedding and you'd look at each other if we were at a church and say wouldn't it be a miracle if that were us?"
The passage of time, changing attitudes, and fighting for equal rights granted the miracle to them, and after 45 years together, they legally wed.
"It seems like 15 years ago was a million years ago and then it seems like it was yesterday," says Moore.
Moore says change began in the mid-1990s as the couple settled in the seaside hamlet of Ocean Grove.
"All of a sudden there were other people like us and we were having pot luck parties and we were associating with one another and it slowly grew and grew," says Moore.
National media became aware of the couple's battle with the Camp Meeting Association to hold a civil union ceremony on the boardwalk. When they prevailed, the couple ended up in the spotlight.
"It wasn't an ego thing it at all," says Moore. "It was saying 'we made it and we're going to keep going until we can get married.'"
The marriage lasted until Sonnessa passed away, nearly 52 years after the couple met following an extended hospice.
"We laughed a lot," says Moore. "There was never a time that we talked about what if this happens tomorrow – we say goodnight, we say good morning if there was a tomorrow, we took it."
Moore's message to people who are coming out is simple – this is your world, stand up and be who you are.
"I personally want to see our senior community be more accepting of each other not to be ashamed of who they are or who they live with, to be proud of it they are part of a community and they can really help everybody understand," says Moore.
Moore says she has one more desire, to see the pride flag fly high atop the statehouse building in Trenton for the month of June next year, much like her own flags fly outside of her home in Ocean Grove every day. 



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