John sits in the New York City office of the Human Rights Campaign, slightly hungover from the previous night’s festivities, but still basking in the satisfaction of a major victory. It has been a long fight, and John has the battle scars to prove it. He spent countless days lobbying elected officials in New York, New Jersey, Maryland. Numerous trips away from home, long drives, lonely hotel rooms. The doors of conservative opponents slammed in his face. Picketers, insults, hate-filled attacks.
But as he reflects back on the past couple of years, he knows that every setback was well worth the final outcome. Yesterday, on June 26th 2015, the Supreme Court decided to legalize same-sex marriage.
John and his coworkers won. Love won. And they celebrated last night.
He is shaken out of his blissful daydream by the phone’s sudden ring.
John answers, “Hello. HRC New York City,” as he rubs his temples
An unfamiliar voice responds, “Yes, hello. I’m from Governor Cuomo’s office. The governor obtained the ability to officiate weddings last week, and he would like to marry a gay couple during the Pride celebrations. Do you, or someone in your office, know of a gay couple he can marry tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” John asks as he lifts the fog from his brain so he can comprehend what is happening. “Yes! Yes, I do! Me—he could marry me! I’m engaged to my partner Matthew, and we would be honored if Governor Cuomo married us!”
“Wonderful! We’ll work out the details later today.”
As John hangs up the phone, his eyes widen in surprise and excitement. He grabs his cell and immediately calls his mother. When she answers, he shouts, “Get on the first plane to New York!”
The next morning, John is brimming with nervous excitement. He can’t put down his phone, calling everyone he knows to share the good news. He and Matthew have a big wedding planned in September, complete with the ceremony at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, a reception at the Morris-Jumel Mansion across the street from their Washington Heights home, and after party at a Harlem night club. But John could never pass up the opportunity to be married by the governor, and the wedding celebrations can still occur as planned.
John’s giddy energy makes his fingers constantly text and dial until Matthew commandeers his phone, saying “I’m going to have to surgically remove this from your hand if you don’t stop.”
“Sorry. I can’t help it. I want everyone to be there.”
“I’m sure everyone will hear about this,” Matthew responds hesitantly. He only recently came out to his work colleagues at UBS. And while he is no longer hiding anything about himself, thanks in part to John’s influence, the thought of being the poster child for marriage equality is still settling in his stomach.
Later that day, the couple arrives at the decided location for the ceremony—the Stonewall Inn. New York City is alive with pride. The streets are filled with millions of New Yorkers marching and rejoicing love, truth, the Supreme Court decision. Rainbow flags decorate every building, and banners announcing “PRIDE” hand from fire escapes. The light rain cannot dampen the excitement that inspires cries of joy from the massive crowds of people. The energy is palpable and brings everyone together in a colossal groundswell of celebration.
A crowd has already formed as John, Matthew, and their parents are directed to stand at the side of the stage. After John’s colleague Robbie Kaplan introduces the governor to cheers and camera clicks, the governor takes the stage. His words echo the sentiments that have inspired John to work tirelessly for marriage equality: “This is a proud day for America because it stands up to one of the principles that makes America so special. It says, ‘today we treat equal people, equally.’ And that really is the fundamental promise of this country.”
He continues to discuss the long battle for same-sex marriage in New York and at the Supreme Court, the conservative elected officials who supported marriage equality and lost their seats because of it, the importance of equality. The crowd listens with intent ears and open hearts. He says, “But my friends, today is a good day because, at the end of the day, love wins today. And any day that love wins is a good day.” The crows cheers and applauds. Their deepest convictions are officially recognized by the governor of a major state.
After the clapping settles down, he continues, “I’m now going to ask John and Matthew to join me on stage, and their families.” The crowd erupts again. “I want you to know I’m a little nervous today. This is my first marriage.” John and Matthew laugh and their nervous excitement spills through their lips. They face the crowd with beaming smiles.
The governor leads them through their vows. He begins with John, whose tears stream uncontrollably down his cheeks and whose voice cracks with the weight of the occasion. He wipes the water from his mouth as he says “I do” into the microphone.
The governor turns to Matthew. As he listens to the vows, he smiles widely and stands proud. With full confidence and a beaming voice, he shouts “I do” into the microphone. His words are met with raucous applause, and John exclaims, “Yes!” as if he had ever doubted Matthew’s dedication.
After the exchange of rings, they pledge their love to each other.
To be my husband. To have and to hold. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish.
From this day forward till death do us part.
Matthew looks at John with radiating eyes and an honest heart. John’s smile seems to reach out an embrace his new husband, even before they unite in their wedding kiss.
The governor’s words close the ceremony, “By the power recently invested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you married.” The cheers reverberate down the street and fill the air with a triumphant spirit that reaches the heights of the tallest skyscrapers.
The two men are not thinking about their picture on the front page of the newspapers, nor the crowd of hundreds of friends and strangers witnessing their love. They only see each other as they hold tight and refuse to let go.