Minneapolis couple Lex and Celina Berndt did not expect to marry after just a four-month engagement.
Celina, 24, popped the question on Valentine’s Day, with an idyllic backdrop of a beach in Puerto Rico.
“We went to a rooftop restaurant on the beach, and Celina took me up to the second floor overlooking the ocean and proposed. It was really cute. They already knew I was going to say yes,” Lex said.
The couple had envisioned a two-year engagement, after Lex, 25, wrapped up studies. But when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day, their plans shifted drastically. After weeks of protests and activism, the couple married in front of the burned-out Third Precinct police station, on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City.
The Third Precinct station was the focus of protests because it was where the officers who killed Floyd worked. The precinct has had a reputation for being home to renegade cops.
“We were basically out on the front lines those first two nights,” Celina recalled. “We had some friends who had a van, and we were able to gather medical supplies and distribute on the front lines. It was very intense.”
During the early days, it was very scary to be in Minneapolis, said Lex, who does not have family in Minnesota. They started thinking more seriously about tying the knot around the fifth day of protests, when it was clear that things were not slowing down.
“We decided that we should probably go ahead and get married now because the police were arresting and tear-gassing [people]. The protests were very scary so we thought it would be best to protect ourselves in that way,” Lex said.
While distributing medical supplies, they were hit with both tear gas and chemical irritant, and saw other people injured by projectiles.
“We just thought getting our marriage license would just give us a bit of protection,” Celina said.
“I could get arrested, I could end up in the hospital, really anything could happen, so I wanted to make sure Celina and I could be together no matter what,” Lex said.
The idea of marrying in front of the Third Precinct on Pride weekend came to Lex not long after they realized that getting married meant they had to quickly plan a wedding.
The night that the precinct burned and was abandoned by police, they were both working in a medical tent. What they experienced was indescribable, Lex said.
“We were getting married, at this moment, specifically for legal protection, as the citizens were taking back power. We felt like it would be a nice statement,” Lex said.
The couple married in front of the precinct on June 28, surrounded by friends who planned a backyard reception and found the perfect photographer and videographer.
“All of our friends who we were protesting with were there with us, so it was an opportunity to have a healing moment,” Celina said. Their ceremony was different from what they had expected, but incredibly powerful, said Lex. The couple hopes that their union served as both an act of protest and one of sheer happiness.
“Even though the police are extremely brutal, especially being Black and queer, I just felt like I did want to be in the polices’ face, like no matter what you do to me, I’m going to celebrate my love. It felt like liberation,” Lex said.