Kelly McGillis Joins Lesbian Partner in Civil Union

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"Top Gun" actress Kelly McGillis, who last year came out as a lesbian, has entered into a civil union with girlfriend Melanie Leis, a New Jersey sales executive.

The ceremony was performed in a municipal court in Collingswood, N.J., where the couple lives, according to the wedding announcement in The New York Times. Leis, 42, works at Independence Communications, which provides Muzak to businesses.

The two met in 2000, when Leis was a bartender at a restaurant owned by the actress's second husband, Fred Tillman, in Key West, Fla.,

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Tillman and McGillis have two daughters together, Kelsey Laure, 20, and Sonora Ashley, 17.

McGillis, 53, is also known for her roles in "Witness" and "The Accused" in the 1980s, and played a closeted Army colonel in Showtime's "The L Word."

Her latest film, "Stake Land," premiered last week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

When McGillis came out, the actress said she was "done with the man thing."

"I did that. I need to move on in life," the actress told, saying that she was "definitely" looking for a woman.

McGillis joins a growing number of women who emerge from the closet in midlife.

"Seinfeld" writer Carol Leifer, now 54, told last year that she had listened to what she calls the "Sapphic siren call," or as character Elaine would say, "joining the other team." "If I don't sleep with a woman soon, I think I'll kill myself," Leifer, a comedian, wrote in her book, "When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win."

Leifer, the inspiration for the Elaine Benes character from TV's "Seinfeld," was married and dated only men the first 39 years of her life -- one of them was Jerry Seinfeld himself. But at 40, she had a fling with a woman and fell in love.

"Life threw me a surprise party," she told said. "Not that there's anything wrong with that. I was looking for something fun and chic. I didn't think it would redefine me as a person.

"My feelings for men were very real and powerful, but I fell in love with my partner," she said. "It's been the best relationship of my life."

Women who love other women have become more commercially visible in recent years, in television shows like Showtime's "The L-Word" and in songs like Katy Parry's "I Kissed a Girl."

And experts say many women who may have felt stymied by homophobia in previous generations are finding permission for the first time to explore a new sexual identity -- later in life.

"I feel people are under the false impression: 'There are no men left, I'll go to women now,'" said Leifer. "After 40, I felt emboldened to have an affair with a woman -- 40 sort of gave me permission to do that."

"I adopted a son at 50," she said. "Life gets more interesting as you get older."

'Permission' to Love a Woman

The late-in-life lesbian phenomenon is the theme of a documentary, "Out Late," created by filmmakers Beatrice Alda (daughter of actor Alan Alda) and her partner, Jennifer Brooke.

The idea for the documentary, which explores the lives of five women who found new sexual identities after 50, came from a friend of the couple's named Jason.

"Jason's mother was in her 80s, unhappy and divorced 40 years ago," said Alda. "He said, 'I think she may be a lesbian and doesn't know it.' It's not as uncommon as you think."

One of the film's subjects, Elaine, came out at 79 after a 50-year marriage.

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