12/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EST
A wedding announcement you thought you'd never see: On Sept. 3, in a move that surprised even her closest friends, Gloria Steinem, feminist icon and, at 66, among the world's sexiest seniors, married David Bale, 61, animal rights activist and father of actor Christian Bale. The decidedly low-key ceremony—there were only four guests—was performed at dawn in remote Stilwell, Okla., by the bride's longtime friend Wilma Mankiller, a former chief of the Cherokee nation, and by Mankiller's husband, Charlie Soap, a Cherokee spiritual leader. Steinem and Bale exchanged 95-cent beaded rings, which they no longer wear. And, says the groom, "there was no use of words like husbands and wives, that kind of nonsense." But there was a judge present to legalize the union afterward. The couple met last October at a political benefit in Los Angeles, and Bale was smitten: "Those amazing brown eyes just looking back at you, the intelligence, the warmth, the humor. I was completely in love."
But Bale, a twice-married South African who ran his own commuter airline in England, insists he was wild about Steinem long before then. "I used to wave her articles at other people, particularly macho pilots, and say, 'Read this woman. She's a prophet.' " Not when it comes to her own destiny, it seems. "I couldn't imagine why I would get married," she says. "I was happy as I was." Steinem, who says that she backed out of an engagement during her senior year at Smith College because "marriage felt like a restriction, not an enlargement," began to see things differently in August when she and Bale were traveling the California coast. Late in the month she called Mankiller for advice on whether to tie the knot. The next day she'd made her decision and asked for help in arranging a ceremony to take place a few days later. Says Mankiller: "I calmly told her, We can handle this,' then ran around like I mad trying to get things done. We tried to make it as special as possible." Now that Ms. Right has finally met Mr. Right, has she revised her thoughts on marriage? "Being married is like having somebody permanently in your corner," she says. "It feels limitless, not limited."