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Niecy Nash and Jessica Betts are making history. The 52-year-old actress and her 39-year-old bride cover the March/April 2022 "Black Women in Hollywood" issue of Essence, becoming the first same-sex couple to cover the magazine.
On the cover, Nash and Betts both pose topless, with the former looking at the camera as the latter lovingly cradles her face. Only Entertainment Tonight has exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of their stunning photo shoot airing on Thursday, and Nash talked about the message behind their historic Essence cover.
"What I am hoping happens with our cover is that it will normalize people just loving who they love and not having to explain it or defend it but just do it," Nash says.
Betts agrees, noting, "Spreading love and supporting each other, you know, it's a beautiful thing to be able to support each other ... so I think this message is very clear that we should love and support each other regardless of our race, gender, or sexualities."
In the accompanying interview with Essence, the women open up about their unexpected love story.
"Not only was it challenging for me to realize I’m having feelings for a woman that I’ve normally had for a man... but it was compounded by the fact that this is my friend," Nash explains. "I thought, 'What I do not want to do is anything that would allow this person to not be in my life for the rest of my life.' So I backed up. I was very afraid."
Ultimately, Nash conquered her fears, and jumped into a relationship with Betts. When the pair announced their marriage in August 2020, Nash was shocked by the public reaction to the news. Nash was previously married to Don Nash from 1994 to 2007, and Jay Tucker from 2011 to 2020.
"A lot of people thought it was like a movie or some promo," Nash says. "They started calling everybody, and we were like, 'This is insane.' I never knew why where you lay your head is such a big deal to other people. I was like, 'People care?'"
Betts remembers Nash being "really shocked" by the response, and, while the singer knew the news would create a splash, she was likewise surprised at the magnitude.
"I knew there was going to be some banter around it. But I didn’t know that it was literally going to break the internet!" Betts says.
NEW COVER ALERT!
All Betts are off when Black Love is on the forefront. Niecy Nash and Jessica Betts stun on our March/April Cover. When you find ‘A Love Like This’ it keeps faith alive of what true love means. #ESSENCEpic.twitter.com/FJG3DFGs1z
Their relationship has only flourished since they said "I do," and Nash isn't shy about sharing what she loves about her wife.
"The least of my attraction is gender," she explains. "What I was and am still attracted to is Jessica’s soul. She was the most beautiful soul I had ever met in my life. Now that I’ve experienced it, I can’t imagine going through life without it."
As for Betts, she says that Nash makes her "absolutely feel fully seen."
"I feel like all of me is accepted," Betts says. "All of me is loved -- and not just the part that I present, but the part that I don’t necessarily show to everyone else."
Tune in to Entertainment Tonight on Thursday for more with Nash and Betts. Check your local listings here.
When ET spoke with Nash following her and Betts' first anniversary, she gushed that her wife is "the best thing that has ever happened to me."
"It's the greatest love of my life so far. This is it," she shared. "I have not experienced love like this and I would say, for me, the best part about it is being truly seen. I can't imagine being any place with anyone other than JB. I don't see it."
The March/April 2022 "Black Women in Hollywood" issue of Essence will hit newsstands March 1.