In June 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision, which essentially struck down significant parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and recognized the marriages of same sex couples that were married in states where such marriages are allowed by law. Subsequent efforts based on the decision allowed for same sex couples to be considered married for federal tax purposes, to receive military benefits and much more. This led many same sex couples from South Florida to make simultaneous travel and wedding plans. As you might assume, many of those are part of our community.
On November 22, 2013 Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church, a local LGBTQ affirming congregation, held a reception in their Graham-Fasana Chapel for members who had responded to the Supreme Court decision by getting married. Ten couples participated in the reception, hosted by the Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin. Once the initial socializing wound down Rev. Griffin asked the couples to gather in front of the stage and to volunteer to come up and tell their stories – how they met, how they proposed, where and the circumstances of how they ended up getting married. A champagne toast, cake and more socializing (it’s a gay group, after all) concluded the festivities.
Without delay and with great enthusiasm couples began approaching the lectern, spontaneously telling a wonderfully entertaining, moving and diverse collection of stories. Here we share three of those stories:
Rev. Kevin L. Tisdol and his partner Michael Mitchell met on December 7, 1987 in Brooklyn, New York at Royal Video, a Blockbuster style video rental store. This is the date that they embrace as their anniversary. Michael asked Kevin about a movie he was thinking about renting and one thing lead to another. As they were leaving the store Michael offered Kevin a ride back to his home. They talked all the way there. They exchanged telephone numbers and made a date for the following week. They met in December and moved in together the following March. And they joke about lesbians and U-Hauls!
Kevin and Michael had three ceremonies celebrating their relationship. They’re not sure if they really proposed marriage one to the other. In December 1992 they had a commitment ceremony, which they call “symbolic but …important to us.” They had another ceremony in 2003, right after the New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act passed. They were among the first in Burlington Township, NJ to “receive our papers.” When the civil union law went into effect in New Jersey they decided to wait until they could get legally married. There would be no more half steps for them. And get legally married they did — on December 27, 2012 they got married in the New York City Clerk’s Brooklyn office with Kevin’s sister as witness. Both families joined them for a celebratory dinner. They’ve raised Michael’s oldest grandchild. Kevin is proud to say that they had the perfect “nuclear family.”
Kevin is the Minister of Administration at Sunshine Cathedral. He is currently a seminarian at Episcopal Divinity School. He expects to graduate in 2017, with a Master of Divinity degree and be ordained for the Metropolitan Community Church. This is a second career for Kevin, who worked for 26 years for MTA New York City Transit, advancing to Chief Support Officer and retiring in 2011.
Michael is an accountant by trade, serving in that capacity for 13 years with the Marriott Corporation. He also worked for Ernst & Young & Verizon Wireless, where he served as a Court Order Clerk, working with law enforcement agencies, often assisting them by providing information that lead to high profile life-saving rescues. He retired from Verizon in June 2012 and is currently working for a large retail chain, providing leadership in their cash-room operations.
Kevin and Michael have been living in South Florida, in Lighthouse Point, since June 2012. They love to entertain. Kevin credits Michael for being an exceptional cook, but he says that Michael makes the desserts. They love to travel and have been to Canada, as well as countries in Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and many Caribbean countries.
Brad Sterl and Tedd Davis met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the spring of 1980. They both worked at what they refer to as “the hottest (straight) night club/restaurant in Philadelphia.” Tedd was a nighttime bartender and Brad was a lunch waiter. They used to pass each other in the break room between shifts. One night they both happened to have seen each other in a gay bar and started talking; and they’ve been together ever since.
They lived together in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., for 30 years. When marriage became legal in Washington, D.C. Tedd suggested the possibility. Brad felt that they should wait until it actually meant something, since there were no rights or privileges associated with a marriage from a place you did not reside in. Before President Obama was re-elected Brad said: “If Obama gets re-elected I think we will get married.” The day after the election Tedd wanted to know “when?” What Brad had meant was that there was a likely possibility of marriage rights that would matter in Obama’s second term. Once that possibility came, with the Supreme Court decision, they set out to plan a wedding.
They got married in D.C., since places they have lived in in Virginia and currently Florida don’t support same-sex marriage. They were married at the MCC church in D.C. with 130 friends and family in attendance. The picture of them was taken on their wedding day in front of the Supreme Court.
Brad and Tedd will have been together 34 years in May of this year. Brad says that: “We have never come anywhere close to splitting up…it’s never entered our minds”. They’ve lived in different cities their first four years together — Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, finally ending up in D.C.
In November 2013 they moved to a house in Wilton Manors, which they call their permanent residence, though they plan to spend time in D.C. as well. They say they are kept busy by their two dogs and a cat. Tedd is an artist and loves anything to do with music and Brad is an avid gardener, adjusting to south Florida gardening.
Tedd is a special events planner for galas and balls for non-profit organizations. Brad is an Executive Coach and Leadership Development Consultant.
They are looking forward to filing their first joint tax return this year. People ask them if it feels any different being married since they’ve been effectively married for 33 plus years. Their response is “yes, surprisingly it does!”
Larry (a.k.a. Polo) Poole and Frank Marin met through an online dating site that a friend of Frank’s insisted he join. Frank was attracted by Polo’s “cuddle me” online moniker; Polo by their background and interest in Catholic religious life and spirituality.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with sexual attraction,” Frank says, “but we weren’t looking to hook up, as such, but for a meaningful relationship.” They met in March 1999 and by May of that year were participating in a commitment ceremony at our Lady of Wisdom Old Catholic Church in West Palm Beach. Again, how is it that lesbians are the ones who get the reputation of coming to the first date with a U-Haul? This is our second example of male couples quickly deciding to commit! They lived in Lake Worth, later moved to Broward County and currently have a home in Wilton Manors. They were pioneers — among the first couples to register as Domestic partners when Broward County officially opened its registry in 1999.
Frank & Polo closely followed the marriage equality movement. They mutually decided that an affirmative decision by the Supreme Court would lead to their seriously considering getting married in a state that supported marriage equality. Polo’s birthday at the end of June gave Frank an opportunity to propose and he included “will you marry me” as part of a birthday greeting. Polo said “yes, of course!” They then kept playfully proposing one to the other and things were set in motion.
The planning began for where to go to get married and they quickly determined that the best option would be to contract marriage in New York City, since Frank had a connection to the city, having grown up in Brooklyn.
They traveled to New York the second week of October 2013 and stayed at a charming Bed & Breakfast on Staten Island, got their marriage license at Staten Island Borough Hall, where the official was extremely friendly and encouraging; and got married at the Manhattan City Clerk’s office the next day, a memorable anniversary date, 10/10. It was a three-hour wait during which countless same sex couples participated; from couples in traditional wedding attire to those in shorts and t-shirts. Their friend Paul Makuch from Pennsylvania joined them as their Best Man and witness. They would like to make it a regular tradition to celebrate their anniversary in New York City every year, with much more time to tour and enjoy the city.
Frank and Polo followed their civil marriage in New York City with a religious wedding ceremony at Sunshine Cathedral during the first Sunday of Advent service on December 1with some 30 friends, colleagues and family members joining the congregation. They have been blessed with an incredible outpouring of love and support since they got married, even from the most unlikely and unexpected of places.
A waiter at La Guardia Airport in New York offered to serve them champagne to celebrate. When he asked how long they’d been together and Polo responded with: “How did you know we were together?” the waiter said with typical New York wit and without missing a beat — “you’re wearing wedding rings and carrying matching Tommy Hilfiger luggage…hello!” Note to Frank – shop for different luggage and remember to remove rings when traveling in parts of the country that are not so gay-friendly. That might be when they travel to Las Vegas this summer for a conference and postponed honeymoon.
They both work for Broward County, at different Regional Libraries. For Polo it’s a second career as a computer specialist, having earned a master’s degree in social work and worked as a therapist most of his life. Frank has a master’s in Library Science and heads two sections at his library. Other than being a librarian for most of his adult life Frank’s only other occupation was that of a Benedictine monk, for seven years.
Polo’s hobby is photography. Although he’s always being complimented and told he should go into business with his photography and the greeting cards that he creates with his pictures he says that he simply enjoys the pleasure that comes from making people happy with them. Frank’s pastimes are reading and writing.
A recent toast at a holiday party to the newly married couple, contained the hope that “one day marriage equality will be the law of the land everywhere, including Florida, and there will be no need to go out of state to get married”, what the Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin of Sunshine Cathedral echoes and called “ending the underground railroad of marriage equality” in a recent homily.
The Supreme Court did us no favors by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act while stopping short of mandating marriage equality in all states. This left in place a patchwork of state laws, no recognition for marriages performed in states where it’s legal by states where it’s not.
The positive side of the decision is that it has given steam to the marriage equality movement, given it legal justification through case law that is helping to continually add states to the marriage equality column. In less than a year the number of states where marriage equality is now the law has doubled from 9 to 18…and counting!
It has also resulted in the strengthening of public support. According to a recent Gallup Poll 52 percent of Americans would vote to legalize gay marriage. Interestingly this includes 60 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Republicans. Fifty-four percent think marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.
This is where the Supreme Court needs to go next, seeing and ruling on same sex marriage nationally as a matter of equality under the law, recognizing it as inherently unequal that a same-sex couple can marry in New York but that their marriage is not recognized back home in Florida; that the marriage of a straight couple is recognized in all 50 states, regardless of where they married but not that of a same-sex couple.
Sunshine Cathedral had 10 couples in the Graham-Fasana chapel for their recent wedding reception for couples that married in 2013. We have featured 3 of those couples and their interesting and touching stories here. We look forward to reporting a large increase in those numbers in 2014, perhaps a much larger celebration at the Cathedral’s larger worship center, celebrating Florida and the remaining 31 states joining the ranks of states where marriage is available to all, regardless of the gender of the spouses.