Every father of the bride braces for the moment when he walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her away to the man she loves.
But Gil Bates will likely take that walk 10 times for each of his 10 daughters. He also has nine sons to marry off.
The Bates family is an evangelical, conservative Christian family who are deeply faithful and live a modest lifestyle at their home outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.
With 19 biological children, Gil and Kelly Bates believe God is in charge of family planning. At 25 years old, Zach is the oldest, followed by Michael, Erin, Lawson, Nathan, Alyssa, Tori, Trace, Carlin, Josie, Katie, Jackson, Warden, Isaiah, Addaliee, Ellie, Callie, Judson and baby Jeb, who is 2-and-a-half.
Alyssa, 19, the most recent Bates child to walk down the aisle, was married in May after getting engaged in January to her now husband John Webster, the son of Florida Congressman Daniel Webster.
Alyssa was Gil and Kelly’s third child to head to the altar. Zach, the eldest child, was married to his wife Whitney in December and settled just down the road from his family. They are expecting their first child -- the first Bates grandchild -- in October. Erin, 23, is also a newlywed. She and her husband Chad Paine live in a cottage also not far from her parents and older brother.
Anyone who marries a Bates must share their strict Christian values and it’s not always easy to get parental approval. Michael watched her two younger sisters, Erin and Alyssa, become brides before her, but soon it will be her turn. She and her boyfriend Brandon Keilen are courting and both said they want a big family.
“Thankfully, praise the Lord, we agree, we both want a lot of kids, so, but if the Lord just gives us two, that’s wonderful too,” Michael said.
Before their wedding, Alyssa and John had never been alone together, even though they had dated for over a year. As part of the Bates’ family’s rules of courtship, the couple barely had any physical contact before marriage.
Since Alyssa has so many siblings, not all of them could be in the bridal party so just nine of the 19 Bates children were in the wedding. As for the wedding dress, no strapless or plunging neckline allowed. Alyssa even had to have her dress altered to add cap sleeves.
“On the wedding day, she should feel beautiful, comfortable and appropriate,” said her mother, Kelly.
Six hundred people were invited to the wedding, including the Bates’ friends and America’s most famous mega family, the Duggars, the stars of TLC’s reality TV show, “19 Kids and Counting.” Raising 19 kids is not cheap, so the Bates like to live frugally and that includes how they throw a wedding. The signs, the decor, even the pot luck desserts were all made by the family.
Gil runs a tree-cutting business and preaches, which provides enough for the family to get by. Lawson, the Bates’ fourth child, started his own lawn care company when he was just 13, which has been profitable enough for Lawson to help out his family with short term loans.
“I bought a new truck. I buy everything cash. I don't like to borrow money,” he said. “Zach needed $1,000 to help buy a car, so I loaned him that. Erin needed a couple thousands to go to college, so she's paying me back. They're real good about paying me back, which is fine with me. I don't mind.”
Kelly has been pregnant 23 of the last 25 years and has had 14 home births with the help of a midwife, without epidurals or anesthesia. But as she got older, she had a harder time with pregnancies and suffered three miscarriages, so she started taking progesterone to increase her chances of having successful pregnancies.
While the Bates do not believe in birth control, because they say they don't want to use medical intervention to prevent a pregnancy, they are willing to use modern medicine to sustain a pregnancy. They argue a 2-day-old embryo is as deserving of medical intervention as any of their children because they believe life begins at conception.
“Although we just want to trust God, but at the same time, if there’s already a life living, we don’t want to deny medical help for a baby that’s in trouble,” Kelly said.
After her hormone treatment, Kelly gave birth to Jeb, baby No. 19, almost three years ago, and said they would have more if that’s what God intended.
For most of the kids’ lives, the Bates family members have all lived under one roof in a five-bedroom home. But Alyssa will be the first to move away from the family’s hometown, which gave everyone pre-wedding jitters.
“Right now I am all excited about getting married, but it’s going to affect me after I move,” Alyssa said.
Soon she and her new husband will move 700 miles away to John’s hometown of Orlando, Florida.
“It’s sad, it’s really sad,” said Tori Bates, who is 13 months younger than Alyssa. “Erin stayed here, Zach stayed here. ... Alyssa, she is moving straight to Florida. When she leaves the wedding, that is the last we’ll see of her.”
Although the Bates family doesn't own a TV, they have a massive online following. Lawson has more than 12,000 followers on Instagram. Alyssa, who started using Instagram to share photos with family and friends, now has 23,000 followers. She mostly shares photos of her and her new husband with the hashtag "#LoveMyHusband."
“It will be an adjustment,” Kelly said of Alyssa moving away. “We are going to miss her personality, her talent. She is a big help to the family. She cooks, she organizes. She will be missed, it will be an adjustment. But thank the Lord for texting. I plan on texting every day.”