Over the front door of 1929 Meridian House at Meridian International Cultural Center, Washington D.C. the quotation, “Quo habitat felicitas nil entret mali,” is inscribed. It might be said that “Where happiness dwells, evil will not enter” has been the motto of Ed Urbaniak and Erwin Lobo of Sterling, Virginia, who passed through this door to marry on August 14, 2010. The day was also a tribute to their tenth anniversary two months before, a decade of shared love, laughter, and joy.
Ed and Erwin met in a chatroom in February 2000, shortly after Erwin had arrived from the Philippines, and later that year, they met in person in New York City, where Ed was working for a photo production company. The occasion was so special, every detail can be recalled. “We met in person for the first time on June 13, 2000 at The Big Cup —a coffee shop in Chelsea,” Ed remembers. “We then went to ‘Eighteen and Eighth’ for dinner.” Soon, their special date had turned into a special summer, and they knew they were meant to be together. “Forever,” they add. So when Ed received a job offer in IT Consulting in Virginia, he asked Erwin to join him. Erwin said yes, packed, found a job as an office manager, and they made the move.
“The evolution of our relationship seemed very natural,” Ed says. “I think that we both knew from the start that we’d have a long future together.”
On their first anniversary, Ed asked Erwin another question, again hoping for an affirmative response. But initially, all Ed revealed was that Erwin should dress up, be ready by 6 p.m., and be prepared for a surprise. At 6 sharp, a limo pulled up and whisked them away for what Erwin assumed was a night on the town.
“But I told Erwin that we were running early,” Ed reminisces, “and that we’d stop by a friend’s house for a party. Unknown to Erwin, I’d asked all of his friends to be there with a banner that said, ‘Erwin, Marry Me’.”
When they entered, their previously-hidden friends jumped out and Ed proposed. Erwin, again, said yes. “I think our friends might have been even more excited than we were,” Ed recalls.
Starting a Family
Ed and Erwin’s lives became even more exciting when in 2004, they adopted a special-needs child, Leon, now age 7, from Guatemala, and their already-joyful life became even more so. “We knew that Leon would have some developmental issues and some vision issues before he came home,” Ed explains. But they’d been unaware of the extent of his disabilities, including Leon’s extreme far-sightedness, asthma, delays in speech, motor skills and learning problems. After additional evaluations, it was discovered that Leon also had mild epilepsy, ADHD, and memory issues too.
But even with the hundreds of hours of care and love Ed and Erwin bestowed on Leon, they knew one child was not enough, and in 2007 they adopted another Guatemalan boy, Ilo, now age 4. “We describe having children as the hardest/best thing that we have ever done,” Ed explains with a grin. “There is always something that needs to be taken care of with the children—extra shopping, activities, doctor appointments, school appointments. But it is all worth it for that spontaneous laugh or hug and seeing them grow and learn.”
Living together, having children, Ed and Erwin led what they believed was a typical married life. “We considered ourselves married in every way,” Ed explains. In fact, the thought of a legally recognized wedding ceremony didn’t cross their minds often, until January of this year. It was then that everything changed. They were told that Erwin only had a few months left to live, and began research on hospice care.
“In 2008, I noticed an unusual pain in my back,” Erwin explains. “I saw a few doctors and they detected a mass in my right lung, but were unable to diagnose specifically what the problem was.”
In March of 2009, that specific diagnosis was made: Erwin had stage IIIB lung cancer and had six to twelve months to live. The cancer had also metastasized to his brain and bones. In addition to the children and Erwin’s illness, Erwin and Ed now had a wedding on their minds.
A Wedding Contest
Ed had noticed an ad for a voter-driven wedding giveaway, and to surprise Erwin, he entered. But in the age of quickly-spreading news, within hours Erwin had learned of Ed’s surprise on a mutual friend’s Facebook page. So he and Ed began blog postings of their own, encouraging family, friends, and friends of friends to vote. An early posting read:
“Help Ed and Erwin Win Their Ultimate Wedding. Wow! In the past 24 hours we had over 2000 people invited to the voting event. Vote and share, vote and share.”
But a few weeks later, their standing didn’t look very promising, and they blogged: “Voting is still open for 44 minutes. Please vote. We are fighting for 10th place.”
Weeks later, Ed and Erwin had finished in 11th place, but their blog post revealed nothing but joy: “We just had better news than winning any contest yesterday. Erwin’s treatment is working better than we ever hoped.”
After six rounds of chemotherapy, 14 rounds of whole brain radiation, and medication, the cancer was responding well!
“But the future remained uncertain, as lung cancer at this stage is always terminal,” Ed explains. Having their wedding soon had become imperative.
Wishing Upon a Wedding
As if by way of a miracle, the couple learned of another resource, Wish Upon a Wedding, an organization that grants wishes to those with life-threatening illnesses (diagnosed with less than five years to live.) All wedding services are donated by wedding professionals who offer their time, services, or products, according to Shelby Tuck-Horton, WUW’S Washington DC Chapter President, and owner of her own wedding business, Exquisite Expressions & Events.
WUW was reviewing their request, and Ed and Erwin were greatly encouraged by this and some other news too. “FYI: We saw Erwin’s oncologist today and had the first good news about his cancer since October of last year. Thanks to everyone who is praying for us.”
The favorable news continued: “Thank you everyone for your continued prayers. Erwin’s last CAT scan was a little suspicious in his brain. So, he had an MRI and the news was incredible. It is as if his brain NEVER had cancer!”
And more: “Some good news from Wish Upon a Wedding!”
As a brand new organization, WUW had been around only long enough to grant four weddings by that time, and the group’s fifth was to be its first DC Chapter wedding, and its first same-gender ceremony, granted to Ed and Erwin within days of their request.
“We were surprised and honored that WUW granted our wedding wish,” Ed says. “We don’t think that being gay had anything to do with their decision. Their priorities are in the right place. They want to do something nice for a couple that is having a difficult time. Sexual orientation shouldn’t and as far as we can tell didn’t even play into their decision.” He adds, “It is a shame that the rest of the world can’t be this blind.”
The couple was so grateful, they immediately posted: “Thanks to our several fans that suggested Wish Upon a Wedding. We have told WUW about our wish and they have granted us a wedding. If you can spare it, we’d like to suggest a $25 per fan donation which would help Wish Upon a Wedding continue their great service.”
And next: “We have set a date and location with Wish Upon a Wedding! It will be August 14 at the Meridian House. Our wedding planner is a wish granter who is also donating her services.” Every aspect of their wedding would be provided by wish granters – from the invitations, attire, rings, music, catering to the menu cards, and programs, including the Louis XVI-style Meridian House venue.
“All of the vendors were great.” Ed says. “We sometimes felt guilty as they have been so giving - total strangers all just pitching in to help us have a very special day. They asked our opinions and worked very hard to get us everything that we could want…and then they did more!”
Their next blog read, unsurprisingly: “Sorry that it has been more than three weeks since our last update. We have been furiously planning the wedding.”
Ed remembers thinking at the time, “Anyone planning a wedding in 7 weeks is absolutely crazy! Add two active boys and a serious illness and the stress level was off the scales.” Not to mention two active jobs: Ed is leader of The Chin Sells Team at Weichert Realtors, and Erwin is a construction company Marketing Coordinator. But Ed adds that he and Erwin handled the wedding stress the way they have handled all situations. “One day at a time.”
With the assistance of WUW, they handled it all beautifully, and their pre-wedding blog said, simply: “We are nearly ready for our wedding.”
On August 14, 2010 in all-white attire, Ed and Erwin married in the glow of a white-themed wedding, with Leon and Ilo by their side. Completing the wedding party were two matrons of honor and two best men, Debbie Menzer and Mike Gary standing up for Ed, and Tey Cueto and Joel Sioson for Erwin, and flower girl, Marina Story.
Amid white flowers, white parasols, and 50 white-clad guests, a harpist played Only Time as Ed and Erwin repeated personally-written vows and exchanged diamond-studded titanium rings.
The festivities continued with a very special wedding banquet prepared by WUW volunteer caterers, which included a buffet of Beef Medallions with Shallot-Brandy Sauce and Chicken Breast Picata. And of course, a wedding cake, topped with caricatures of Ed and Erwin.
Just prior to the wedding, Ed and Erwin had issued another blog post - “If you would like to watch our wedding live, join us at this link at 3:30pm EST on Saturday.” –And Ed explains why they decided to make their wedding so public. “People too often see a same-sex marriage as a political statement. We are not in love to make a statement. The love happened on its own. We are not a family to make a statement. God brought us together because we need each other in some way. We live our lives the best we can. Hopefully, people will see our love and boring-normalness and realize that we do not threaten traditional marriage. Hopefully, some young gays and lesbians will see us as an example and know that they can have a family of their own.”
“Quo habitat felicitas nil entret mali,” reads the inscription at the Meridian House, donated by the Meridian International Cultural Center for Ed and Erwin’s wedding. “It is truly a beautiful venue,” Ed said. And inside, on August 14, as with every day of their lives together for the past 10 years, happiness dwelled.
(As of this writing, Erwin continues treatment with daily at-home medication for the lung cancer which is now considered stage IV. He is receiving quarterly routine scans as ongoing care.)