Former Miss America Deidre Downs Gunn, a graduate of Baptist-affiliated Samford University, married her girlfriend in a ceremony in Birmingham, Ala., an event covered exclusively by People magazine.
Downs Gunn, 37, a medical doctor who won the title of Miss America in 2005, tied the knot with attorney and writer Abbot Jones. Downs Gunn’s 8-year-old son both gave his mother away and acted as her best man.
Downs Gunn is a 2002 graduate of Samford, a school in Birmingham affiliated for 175 years with the Alabama Baptist Convention. Last year Samford forfeited $3 million in funding from the state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention after trustees gave provisional status to a student group dedicated to the discussion of LGBTQ issues and human sexuality.
Samford’s president ultimately decided against recommending permanent recognition for Samford Together, citing questions about the group’s purpose raised during discussions with Alabama Baptist officials. A President’s Committee on Christianity and Sexuality composed of faculty, staff, students and alumni has been meeting privately since September.
Downs Gunn is the last Miss Alabama to win the Miss America crown. Her community service platform in the area of childhood cancer led to creation of a specialty license plate in Alabama that raised millions of dollars for research at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama.
After delaying her education two years to fulfill her obligation as Miss America, Downs Gunn enrolled at the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine. The first Miss America to go to medical school, she went on to become an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham medical school.
She is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with subspecialty training in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, including in vitro fertilization and reproductive surgery
She married Andrew Gunn, whom she had met at Samford, after graduating from medical school in 2008. The couple later divorced.
During her term as Miss America, Downs was a member of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, a congregation established in 1970 to be racially inclusive. The church, affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has since ordained women to the ministry and affirmed openness to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“She’s a wonderful person and a fabulous doctor,” Sarah Shelton, pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant the past 16 years, told the Birmingham News. “I want nothing but her happiness. I am very proud of her.”
While on honeymoon Downs Gunn sent a statement to the Birmingham News quoting fashion designer Coco Chanel: “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
“It can take courage to be who you are and to realize your worth as a person, but once you do it is such a beautiful and freeing thing,” Downs Gunn said. “And once you do, that allows you to live with authenticity and compassion — for yourself and for others.”