Here at ESSENCE, we’ve been celebrating the beauty of Black love since our inception. From our pages to our stages, we’ve always honored and explored the inner-workings of Black love, and in doing so, we’ve had the unique honor of getting to hear and share some amazing love stories. When you ask a couple how they met, fell in love and decided to spend forever together, the answers you receive are often both moving and insightful. This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re digging deeper and asking couples to sit down and retell their love stories—from their own unique individual perspectives. Last week we caught up with married pastors Gabrielle and Andrew Wilkes to find out how they use their love to empower others, and this week we’re going inside the relationship of newlyweds Sara Elise and Amber Drew, who asked guests at their wedding not to use the word “marriage” but rather to celebrate their love in a different way. Sara Elise is the creator and owner of catering company Harvest & Revel, a collaborative and creative women-led catering company based in Brooklyn, and her wife, Amber, is a life coach and health advocate who owns and operates LifeCycle Biking, an online community for cycle enthusiasts. We were moved by this couple’s incredible and warm connection and how important it was for them to tie the knot on their own terms, with custom vows that truly encompassed how they feel about each other and why they plan to spend their lives together. “Yes, technically we are married, but those kinds of more limiting words we chose to remove from our ceremony,” explains Amber. “We asked the people who did attend not to use ‘marriage’ if possible.” The fact that they could legally marry wasn’t what they wanted the focus to be on on their special day. “You know, historically, the queer community has been excluded from marriage for so long,”  says Sara Elise. “So, we’re not actually celebrating the fact that we’re able to get married, we’re celebrating our love for each other and the union of us both being two separate whole people coming together in love.” The couple knows their bond is solid with or without the marriage license, but it’s necessary to get them closer to their dreams of starting a family. “Us same sex couples that are getting married, we haven’t been afforded the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts,’ explains Amber. “You know, we’re baby planning and in order for me to not have to adopt my child, I have to marry my wife. You know, God forbid something were to happen, if I needed to be there for her, or she needed to be there for me, if we didn’t get married, I can’t show up.”   Watch the video to hear the rest of their story, like what went down on their first date.