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06/10/2009

You are still cordially invited

by Jeremy Hooper

AS the guide led Andrew and I around the gorgeous property, I felt something change within both of us. Our eyes, which had been weighted down by a month of fought-back tears, had new vitality. Our voices, muted by an election in which the promised hope came wrapped in paradoxical packaging, had restored lilts.

It was a cold, foggy, mid-December '08 morning in Morris, Connecticut; but within our minds there was newfound clarity. The tiny town couldn’t have been more foreign, with neither of us Gothamites having family or even friends within a sizable radius. But finally, here in this nonnative countryside, we had found the proper home to host our love. Even though our unrealized California dream might have to be relocated, it was this moment when we first saw that our every wish would still be fulfilled.

But to get to this moment, I need to now bring you back a few months...

August, 2008, to be precise. Three months after the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality and New York governor David Paterson solidified the idea that out-of-state same-sex unions will be fully recognized when local couples return to their east coast homes, the stars seemed aligned for two Upper East Side gay boys to solidify their bond.

So it was decided: We were headed west. And not just to city hall. The Hooper-Shulman wedding was going to be the same sort of production that our hetero friends had enjoyed, minus the dress and non-pluralized bachelor party.

Andrew, the meticulous planner to my more spontaneous free spirit, mapped out an impressive itinerary of places in the San Francisco bay/Silicon Valley area that he winnowed down as potential locales, vendors, and whatnots for a proper destination wedding. With our gay agenda in hand and our plane tickets booked, we used a few late summer days to put it all together.

Being TV junkies, we had seen more episodes of “Bridezillas” than we would admit in certain company. So naturally the trash TV exposure put in the backs of both of our minds the fear that if not careful, this whole wedding planning thing could catch us in its neurotic grips. Much to our surprise, however, the planning started falling in place almost as soon as we stepped off the tarmac at San Francisco International.

The Los Gatos venue was as beautiful as it had looked on the web. The wedding cake, green tea with vanilla bean frosting, seemed baked exclusively for our palates. The caterer was able to put together a vegetarian menu that would leave even the most cow-eating among us to forget about mammalian-based nourishment for at least one evening. And through the guidance of a serendipitously like-minded florist, I discovered that not only did I have strong feelings about arrangements and surfaces, but that I actually had a bit of a knack for it.

We had rented an Infiniti, but we were navigating our California adventure on the back of a cloud. It was easy. Fun. Exciting. We couldn’t wait to regale our friends and family back home with the details of our spring ’09 fantasy soiree.

Back home in NYC, the good luck kept on coming. From save the date cards to mother-in-law dresses, our elements were falling into place with the same gentle ease with which the leaves were now falling from Central Park trees. “What is so hard about all this?” Andrew and I would frequently ask each other. “Why the drama?”

Even though my professional life is built around slaying anti-gay dragons, the joy of these special moments led me to completely forget that any sort of socially conservative fire was breathing down my wedding’s neck. I knew polls were tight and that the donations were coming in at insane levels. But this was our time. This election was different. The “hope” mantra seemed to apply to all.

Our October '08 engagement party was unseasonably warm. The delayed cold annoyed me a little, since my long-planned outfit skewed autumnal. However, it was actually a fitting temp, since the climate inside our SoHo party was defined by an equal amount of human coziness. This was our moment to be feted, and our loved ones gladly sucked up the good vibes. The stage was set for a mild winter.

There are some simple facts in life. Certain inevitables. Chilly temperatures might be delayed, but they will eventually come to be. One must be prepared for the bitter frost, so as to not be left out in the cold.

I wasn’t prepared on November 4th, 2008. Neither was Andrew.

In our Manhattan voting district, Andrew and I were literally the first two people to pull a lever for Barack Obama. 3,000 miles away, 52% of voting Californians sent us a statement that we were among the last two people they would ever want to see swapping golden bands in their Golden State. It hurt. A lot.

As much as we held each other, and as much as we huddled close at the subsequent protest rallies, our bones remained chilled.

The irony of being a gay rights activist is that with great strife comes heightened attention. So in the days and weeks following Prop 8’s passage, I dove into my work headfirst. I was on a hunt for something -- some misstep or miscalculation that would change the result. It all just seemed so wrong. With persistence, there had to be some way I could change the tone back to jubilation. If my heart poured out through my fingers and onto the web, my postmortems could somehow rewrite the game.

But by Tofurkey day, it was clear that none of my prose, no matter how well articulated or appropriately enraged, was going to cause an immediate change. And while semi-reasonable hope lied within the court system, Andrew and I knew that we weren’t going to be able to keep our April ’09 vow exchange. Not if we wanted it to be legally-binding. Not in California.

If the save the date cards were easy to create, then the "release the date" email was its antithetical cousin. Publicly, Andrew and I feigned an indefatigable spirit. Privately, we were defeated.

I can’t say if Andrew cried alone as much as I did, but I suspect the answer is no. We wear our emotions in different ways, and closed-door tears would seem much more my jurisdiction than his. I can, however, say with certainty that he began Googling alone in ways in which I was incapable.

SEARCH: “Gay-friendly Massachusetts or Connecticut wedding”. SEARCH: “Connecticut and Massachusetts wedding planners”. SEARCH: “Eco-friendly CT or MA reception”. SEARCH: “Please let my baby smile again”.

As I began the yearly hunt for Amazon.com holiday bargains, Andrew began to find within himself the determination to plan wedding 2.0 in the 2.0 states that, at the time, would still afford us equality.

I’m sure the first time he mentioned his CT and MA findings to me, I met him with a sigh and possibly an eye roll. It wasn’t that I was willing to put off our marriage -- I was going to wed this man in 2009 no matter what! However, my desire for a lavish party had dissipated. I was more than ready to put on my best wedding jeans and find the nearest JP, Connecticut or Massachusetts, who would civilly bind us.

Andrew knew better. He knew I wanted more. With persistence, he eventually got me in a car for what he promised would be some light wedding hunting. Just to put out some feelers.

The first attempt was as unfulfilling as I’d imagined. The first couple of venues we tried on for size fit us about as well as a three-fingered glove. Some of them were so uninspiring that even after making an almost two hour trek, we didn’t even bother to get out of the car.

We were trying -- we really were. Trying to get into it. Trying to like something. Trying, if I’m honest, to transplant our California plans.

The turning point came on like a song. Quite literally. It turns out that our planned wedding performer, the fantastic Jacqui Naylor, had family ties in Connecticut. If we were to need her services in the Constitution State, she would gladly traverse the country to perform at our reception, as we had planned. She was as annoyed with and embarrassed by Prop 8 as we were, and was determined to facilitate our day in any way she could.

For me, that was a spark. With a semi-restored gusto, I agreed with Andrew that a weekend of hitting up various venues from Norwalk, CT, to Boston, MA, might get us in the right fame of mind. So that’s what we did. We packed our bags, cancelled work plans for the following Friday, and set out to find the easy beauty that had been crushed under the weight of majority tyranny.

And that takes us back to that literally foggy December morning when the figurative fog began to lift from our eyes. Winvian, an artful resort in Morris, CT, had all of the elements we were seeking and more. Rustic like our CA locale, yet with a sophisticated style to rival the most chi chi hotel. It was quiet yet passionate, which, incidentally enough, is exactly the tone of the sentiments through which Andrew and I, via our exchanged glances and nonverbal hand squeezes, told each other that we’d found our Connecticut calling.

The extra planning meant pushing the date back to June. However, the lack of looming ballot initiative meant that no group, no matter how deep their financing or willingness to create duplicitous ads, would have the power to hurt us this time. For that sense of comfort, we can handle a delay.

So here we find ourselves, GPS-ing our way through a second state so that we can obtain our legal rights and take them back home to state number three. It hasn’t been a delicate ballet, that’s for sure. We are still a little bruised. However, that first dance will be all the more sweet having survived the Prop 8 mosh pit.

And in sharing our story, my hope is to not only heal my and Andrew’s wounds, but also the pain that shortsighted bias has inflicted on countless many.


Pearl Jam I Won't Back Down (cover) [YT]

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Your thoughts

anything worth having is worth fighting for ;p

Posted by: a. mcewen | Jun 10, 2009 11:45:45 AM

My brother and his partner want this for themselves, too. As traditional as they can get.

I'm glad you've decided to go for the whole package, and not the quickie JP.

Congratulations.

Posted by: Bonnie_Half-Elven | Jun 10, 2009 12:11:25 PM

That's a beautiful essay. Thanks for sharing it.

TRiG.

Posted by: Timothy (TRiG) | Jun 10, 2009 1:20:33 PM

Hold the good thought that someday soon we will all have equal rights.

Posted by: ekg | Jun 10, 2009 2:05:36 PM

Thanks for the share. posted to facebook...along with pic of WINVIAN! A lovely spot.
Oh, do have a gloriuous day!

Posted by: LOrion | Jun 10, 2009 2:14:17 PM

D*** you made me cry!

Posted by: LOrion | Jun 10, 2009 2:14:38 PM

You're a sweetheart, LOrion!

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jun 10, 2009 2:23:47 PM

This is the best thing I've read all week.
Thanks for posting it, and congrats. :]

Posted by: Brooke | Jun 10, 2009 3:12:11 PM

Best wishes. You provide not only a good site full of information, but hope when it does indeed seem hopeless. Enjoy your well-deserved wedding day.

Posted by: searcher | Jun 10, 2009 3:12:41 PM

Dang, I had no idea you guys went through all this.
I sincerely wish you two all the best, you two deserve it.

Posted by: Clicky the Fox | Jun 10, 2009 3:21:46 PM

Jeremy, So happy for you and your future husband. Thanks for sharing your story with us. I wish you and your future husband all the best for a wonderful wedding day and life together.

Posted by: Justin | Jun 10, 2009 3:50:37 PM

What a great essay. I'm sorry that circumstances prevented your original California plans. I hope you and Andrew have the most beautiful and fabulous wedding Connecticut has ever seen. Blessings on your marriage and may your every day together give you reason to look forward to the next.

Posted by: WilliamM | Jun 10, 2009 4:24:37 PM

That was a beautiful essay, Jeremy.

Posted by: Bill S | Jun 10, 2009 4:35:11 PM

I'm so happy for you both that things have worked out so well. Connecticut is so lovely in the summer, and very handy to the city.

Best wishes!!
Can't wait to see the pics of your wonderful day.

Hugs.

Posted by: SammySeattle | Jun 10, 2009 4:48:21 PM

Wonderful. Just wonderful! I look forward to the big day and your many years of (recognized in NY State!) wedded bliss. :-)
Cheers!

Posted by: Eric | Jun 11, 2009 9:33:55 AM

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