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Pastry Chef Officiates Epic Gay Wedding In a Cave, And It’s Just As Cool As It Sounds

Published Friday, May. 10th, 2024

This spring wedding in Shenandoah Caverns had everything an adventurous queer heart could hope for…


A stylish collared cape and lace-detailed dress. Ethereal cave songs playlist. Traditional jumping the broom ceremony. Neon-tinted stalactites. Pink and purple lighting. Specialty cookies. A dreamy half-and-half custom wedding cake. 


And topping it all off? A proud mother-of-the-brides serving as officiant, Pastry Chef Tonette Lawson.  


Officiant Toni with brides Beka and Laura in Shenandoah Caverns 

Officiant Toni Lawson presides over daughters Beka and Laura's wedding in Shenandoah Caverns; April, 2024. (Photo courtesty of the couple) 



It was Chef Toni’s first time as a wedding officiant (and certainly her first wedding in a cave), but she’s no stranger to adventure, or to a creative DIY endeavor. She earned her GED in 2010, and a B.A. in Baking and Culinary Arts from New England Culinary Institute just a couple years later. Since then, she’s built a successful spirits-infused ‘adult dinner cookie’ brand, called Tesserts, from the ground up. 


In short? She knows how to bring a big dream to life! 


So when her daughter Beka and soon-to-be daughter-in-law Laura told her they were engaged, she leapt at the chance to help plan and officiate their custom ceremony. She was ordained with American Marriage MInistries soon after. 


The brides wanted something colorful, unique, and undeniably sweet – just the kind of adventure Chef Toni loves best! 


The couple decided to hold their ceremony in Shenandoah Caverns, a popular, woman-owned destination featuring a series of accessible subterranean caverns in Quicksburg, Virginia. The family had visited the caves on vacation a few years earlier, and had fond memories of the colorful stalactites, whimsical lighting, and friendly tour guides. Only a couple hours from DC, and a handful of hours drive from their home in New Jersey, this unique venue seemed like the ideal place to exchange vows.


The plan came together quickly, and Toni wrote a custom wedding ceremony script by combining and personalizing a few sample scripts from AMM's online script library with details from Beka and Laura's love story.



Brides Beka and Laura pose in the caverns among colorful stones

Dandelion dreams and lavender themes: Brides Beka and Laura pose for a photo against a backdrop of neon-colored stalactites in Shenandoah Caverns. Beka's yellow and burgundy suit and cape were inspired by her love of dandelions; a perfect match for Laura's purple lace-detailed dress, inspired by her love of lavender. 



But as unstoppable as Toni’s creative energy is, the wedding day was not without its hiccups... 


(What wedding day is, really? And you can’t have a proper queer wedding without a little drama, after all!) 


As the party drove towards the cave where the ceremony would take place, nearly 200 feet below ground, they heard the news of a 4.8 magnitude earthquake back in New Jersey – not far from where they’d been just a few hours earlier. Talk about a hiccup! 


People as far south as Maryland reported rumblings, and for a while, the party wondered if their little cave in northern Virginia was far enough from the epicenter to be safe. 


But while the terrestrial shake up certainly added some spice to the wedding day, nothing was going to stop Toni from putting on her minister’s stole and pronouncing Beka and Laura married. 


Brides Beka and Laura pose for a sweet wedding photo

Sealed with a kiss! Wives Beka and Laura pose for a kiss following their marriage ceremony. (Photo courtesty of the couple)


“And listen, this earthquake happened while we were on our way,” Toni says, laughing. “And I thought, I don’t know if this is a sign or not, but we going! 


And I get there, and you know, as far as nerves go, this is my child. So to me, this is something that has to be done. I want to make sure it's right for her, I want to make sure she's happy, and she's comfortable. So I'm honestly in ‘mother mode’ all the way up until that point, when we get in the cave and [suddenly] I'm hearing water leaking… And it's still beautiful, even more because I know what we're here for. 


And then I remember the last time we were there, and the tour guide said ‘If you look up right here, this is the natural fault line from the last earthquake.’ …My little sister, she panicked. She was like, ‘I can't do this.’ So, my brother and his wife were hovering over her like they were at church having a prayer service, and just trying to navigate her, and walk her through it so she was able to see the nuptials and all – but she split after that.” 


(We can’t blame her; caves aren’t for everyone, especially right after an earthquake!)

The ceremony was an undeniable success. 


To get around Virginia’s antiquated officiant requirements, Toni, Beka, and Laura had completed a New Jersey marriage license before making the trek south. With the paperwork out of the way, there was nothing left to do but celebrate in front of friends and family on the big day.  


The brides made their entrance to a playlist of ‘cave songs,’ with the universe conspiring to create the perfect processional…


“The whole thing was perfect right there. It was like this crescendo when Laura came around the stone corner,” Toni says. “And her arrival, and that crescendo, happened at the same time. So it was just perfect. And that wasn’t planned, by the way… My grandbaby is four, and she said, ‘I think she's a princess’.” 


The couple also exchanged personal marriage vows and included a ‘Jumping the Broom’ ritual to honor Beka’s African American culture, and their blending of cultures. This tradition carries a lot of meaning behind it, and the brides were guided through each step – and leap – by Toni.


(Watch them jump the broom in the video below!)





Toni tells us, “It’s an African American thing, you know, we weren't allowed to have traditional weddings. So that's what was done, [jumping the broom]. And I thought that it was so cool that Laura was excited about it. 


You know, not to make it a big deal, or shy away from it – with them being interracial, and being queer, there's just a lot. It’s a lot as a parent, it's a lot to be concerned about emotionally, because I don't want anybody to attack them. But then, there's [also] a lot when you come from a religion, and you're trying to break those chains that don't even make sense. And then be a protector – and all of the things, right? And then to make sure that Laura is comfortable, because she is entering into a Black family. And we are, like, we are very Black. So, you know, it's just a lot going on, but we're very welcoming, very open, very warm. And it was just amazing to see that, [the jumping the broom included].”


Related: Jumping the Broom Wedding Ceremony Script


It was everything a mother and officiant could hope for: a beautiful, one-of-a-kind ceremony. 


A few days later, the families gathered again for a stunning reception above-ground to enjoy good conversation, dancing, and a tableful of Toni's custom desserts.  



Brides Laura and Beka pose next to a dessert table featuring cookies and cake baked by officiant Chef Toni Lawson of Tesserts   Brides Beka and Laura hold up their drinks to toast their new marriage as friends and family watch

Brides Beka and Laura celebrate with cookies and cake baked by Toni, and toast their marriage with friends and family during the festive wedding reception. (Photos courtesy of the couple)



From Chef to Celebrant… a sweet combination


Now that she’s caught the ‘wedding bug,’ Chef Tonette has added officiant services to her custom desserts website. It’s a winning combination that’s sure to hit the spot for all kinds of couples in her home state of New Jersey.  


She hopes to marry many more LGBTQ+ couples, and is open to marrying all couples who are looking for a welcoming, inclusive officiant to create their custom ceremony. 


And you don’t want to miss her custom cookie combinations and desserts either!


Toni baked Cherry Truffle and Toasted Cumin S'more flavored cookies for the wedding gift bags, and a heavenly custom half-and-half cake the brides commissioned. The cake was lavender and chocolate, half decorated with a dandelion and lavender theme, and the other half with a cosmos-supernova space theme. (What a delicious, dreamy cake!)


All the treats she bakes at Tesserts are gluten-free (and often vegan!), with plenty of unique cookie flavors to choose from: Peach Whiskey; Oatmeal Rum Raisin; Cranberry Rum & Chocolate; Sweet Honey Jalapeno; Sweet Potato Pie; Firecracker Cornbread; and many more


Learn more about Chef, CEO, and Officiant Toni Lawson and her unique cookies on her website: 

She’ll deliver her unique 'adult cookies' right to your door, or bring a bag (or two) to your ceremony when it’s time to help you say ‘I do!’ 


Connect on Instagram or Facebook or visit her website,



Headshot of Chef Toni Lawson

Toni Lawson

Chef, CEO, Officiant, Minister, and proud Mother-of-the-Brides!



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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