Susan Hart Hellman

Susan Hart Hellman

Susan Hart Hellman is a freelance writer based in California she can be contacted vie email at Susan@SusanHartHellman.com.

In anticipation of the day the state of Iowa would legalize same-gender marriage, Dean Genth and Gary Swenson of Mason City, having had a Holy Union Ceremony in 2004, planned on simply appearing at the courthouse, signing the papers, being wed by a judge, then going on back home. However on April 3, 2009, the day the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the Iowa legal code’s 1998 One Man/One Woman law, Dean and Gary’s expansive list of friends asked to be in on the historic wedding celebration. Gary and Dean realized their ceremony plans would need expanding too, so they began indulging in ideas for a May 31st wedding in Music Man Square, a 1912 River City Streetscape, reminiscent of the movie “The Music Man,” and home to “Music Man” composer Meredith Willson.

But Dean and Gary also had another, perhaps more vital reason for their change of plans. In their wedding program, the couple explained their personal heartfelt goal to their guests. “If one young man or young woman attending, who has been told by society, church, or even family that they are ‘less than,’ could come away from our ceremony with a hope for the future, a hope that includes love, companionship, and recognition that they too are of value, then we’ve been successful.”

For these two men to choose to include the inspiration of others as a priority for their Wedding Day was not unexpected, as Gary and Dean are considered the North Iowa “Poster Boys” for same-gender relationships. “We have worked with One Iowa (an advocacy group dedicated to supporting full LGBT equality) since its formation,” Dean says. “...And also with Executive Director Brad Clark on the State's Anti-Bullying legislative efforts.”  Dean and Gary co-founded PFLAG-North Iowa, and Dean is president of the Iowa State PFLAG Council of Chapters and Chair of the Iowa Stonewall Democrats Caucus.

Dean and Gary’s History

As part of their ceremony, Dean, a retired business executive, and Gary, a radiologist, made use of their 27-page written program in part to tell guests about their life together, including how they met when their careers took them individually to Chicago 6½ years before. Soon thereafter, Dean joined Gary in Mason City, Iowa, and the couple celebrated a Holy Union Ceremony at First Presbyterian Church on November 27, 2004 in front of almost 200 friends, family and community members.

But to make their May 31st wedding truly inspirational, Dean and Gary also told the story of their lives before they met. “The story,” they detailed in their program, “of two boys who grew up in unfriendly times and sometimes hostile circumstances.”For Gary, those circumstances included growing up the sixth of eight children in a traditional Mormon household.  He says that when he was old enough to realize he was “different” and began to discuss his feelings and questions with church leaders, he was advised to pray, read scripture, and marry a “good woman,” and those awful feelings would go away.

Likewise, Dean was raised in a conservative environment, a rural Indiana farm. In the wedding program he explained how in his youth he also had followed what society, church, and family dictated as the “recipe for happy living.”

Both men married, had children, and established themselves in their respective churches and communities, but there were consequences, which they explained candidly in the program to their wedding guests. “The dissonance and heartache grew in the hearts of two men who were living what they considered ‘irrational roles’ - roles society created, had created for them. And all the while, they lived in fear, living false lives.”  Both recall being obsessed with certain thoughts. “What if my family and church members found out who I really am?”  In their wedding program, the couple further explained, “It took many years before we could realize we are indeed beautiful, and that God means for us to be happy.”

That day arrived, unexpectedly, in 2002. “It was destined. Our souls had to fly, and that flight began on December 2, 2002 when we met in Chicago and fell in love.”

But the doubts remained. “Let’s give it a year,” Dean recalls saying. “If we still feel the same, we can make arrangements to merge our lives.” However, it was only three weeks later that he proposed to Gary.  “Will you marry me?” he asked.

The couple shared the mix of thoughts and emotions that they then faced, considering their prospective future together. “It couldn’t be,” they concluded at the time. “It couldn’t work.” Gary lived in Iowa; Dean lived in Ohio, but most importantly, they believed that all they’d worked for – jobs, families, community standing -  would be sacrificed for what they felt was “an insane proposition.”  There was no logic! There was no common sense!

But there was love, and Gary answered Dean’s proposal in just five words:  “Dear Dean. Yes. Love, Gary.”

However, the fears continued. “We had difficulty shedding the years of conditioned self-loathing and shame that accompanied our situation,” the couple acknowledged in their wedding program. They felt as if they should retreat to a “safe” place, somewhere larger than Mason City, and bought a house in Cincinnati. “Cincinnati was a big enough city that we felt we could become anonymous,” they explained, “and live our lives quietly, giving us a chance to adjust to the concept of being a gay couple in straight America.”

But those plans, like their eventual May wedding plans, were transformed by friends. When Gary gave his medical partners notice with little explanation, one of them took him aside and asked, “Why do you have to move?”

Gary’s many excuses didn’t work and he recalls, “Finally, I simply came out with the truth.” Then he told all his partners about Dean, and each one had the same response: “If you think it matters, it doesn’t, so please don’t move away.”

After eventually telling others too, the couple was still concerned. “We were reeling from the immediate psychological trauma of coming out to families, friends, churches, and our communities,” they explained to their wedding guests. “We felt the loneliness and isolation that comes with internalizing all the negative opinions of society.  The trauma was real.  Wives and children were no longer a part of our daily lives.  Excommunication and expulsion from lifelong church affiliations had just been endured.”  In addition, they were facing what they believed would be the town’s potential negative reaction to a gay couple living in its midst.

But then, they heard the song that changed their lives. “Quite by accident,” Dean explains, “we found ourselves on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.  As we walked along, we saw a sign announcing “Gay Men’s Chorus Concert, tonight in the chapel.  That evening, feeling as if we were the only gay couple in all of the rural Midwest, we timidly entered the chapel and saw 100 members of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.” The couple watched hundreds of people filter into the chapel. “Young, old, gay couples, straight couples, students and professors,” Dean recalls.  “All smiling,” Gary adds, “welcoming, and happy.  It was an epiphany! We weren’t alone!”

For the first time, Dean and Gary held hands in public, unafraid, and at the evening’s end, they grasped the hands of those around them too as the 29 year-old Chorus sang what had always been its signature song, ‘Walk Hand In Hand.’  Dean and Gary were in awe. “The choir and audience sang together words that would forever change the hopes and dreams of two frightened men from Iowa.” 

On November 27, 2004, Gary’s business partners, and nearly 200 other guests joyously witnessed the couple’s Holy Union Ceremony at First Presbyterian Church, right there at home, in Mason City.

The Wedding Ceremony

On April 27, 2009, the day marriage licenses could be legally provided to same-gender couples in Iowa, Dean and Gary were first in line. By this time, their initial plan - a simple visit to the judge-  was just a laughable memory, and the preparations for the larger event, for 400 friends, relatives, co-workers, and community members, were in place. They had decided that this time when they donned their tuxedos, they wanted the day’s meaningfulness to extend beyond a wedding. “Our event was a day of Marriage Equality Celebration,” Dean explains. “We envisioned this being a teachable moment for the community here in Iowa.”

To accomplish this goal, they wished to create a multi-faceted and relevant ceremony, beginning with pianist Brian Snell’s renditions of songs including “I Am What I Am,” “If He Walked Into My Life,” “Somewhere My Love,” “One Hand, One Heart,” and “Impossible Dream.”

Then several narrators, including Rev. Paul Collier and Mr. Allen Burch, began telling the story of Dean and Gary’s lives.  As part of their story includes their families, standing alongside the grooms were Dean’s nieces, Lynne Utterback and Deb Baker, and Gary's son, Adden Swenson,  Gary's youngest brother, Mark Swenson and his husband Craig Coburn, and Gary’s nephew, Aaron Swenson.

As the narrators spoke, The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, directed by Dr. Stan Hill, accompanied by Timothy De Prey, performed songs related to Dean and Gary’s story. “Once I Had a Secret Love,” they sang. Also intertwined within the story were the songs “If You Only Knew,” “We Kiss in a Shadow,” “I Can Fly,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Vocalists Beth, Jennifer, Kristen, and Stephanie Ehlers sang “Somewhere.”

Also interspersed were the narrators’ readings of several significant pieces including Edmund O’Neill’s classic work, “Marriage Joins Two People In The Circle Of Its Love.”

But in addition to being informative and inspiring, Dean and Gary’s wedding was also designed to be very personal. “Our vows this time,” Dean says, “were more secular than the Holy Union Ceremony, but were written by us to be extremely personal and meaningful for us.”

It was personal to them on another level too: the inclusion of Reverend Mel White, internationally known author and founder of Soulforce, an organization focused on obtaining freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the use of nonviolent resistance.

The choice to have Rev. White officiate at their wedding stemmed from Dean’s appreciation for Rev. White’s book, Stranger At The Gate - To be Gay and Christian in America, which Dean says enabled him to "come out" and live life honestly and authentically.  Dean then served as Director of Logistics for Soulforce’s 2007 East Bus Equality Ride, and having struck up a friendship, Rev. White was happy to officiate at the couple’s wedding.

After the vows, the ceremony closed with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus singing the song that had so positively impacted Dean and Gary’s lives several years before. “Walk hand in hand with us,” Dean and Gary invited their guests. Guests grasped each others’ hands as the Chorus sang its signature song.  

The Reception

The Chorus also entertained at the reception, as did Kirk’s DJ & Sound. The reception theme, the Music Man Square Streetscape décor, featured rainbow flags of all sizes and floral displays, centerpieces, corsages, and boutonnières, created by Randy Black of Hy-Vee Floral, including tulips, roses, daisies, and irises in bright rainbow colors.Gail Schurtz of Hy-Vee Catering provided the Casual Cuisine menu including gourmet ham, turkey, and roast beef tortilla snack wraps; a fresh fruit bouquet featuring melon, grapes, and strawberries; lemon-limeade slush, and wine bar. The three-tier wedding cake had an Asian influence, square with draping apple blossoms and the Cantonese symbol for Happiness on top.  Three additional sheet cakes were decorated with rosebuds and rainbow colors in keeping with the wedding theme. Photographers Matty Smith and Ed Lynn recorded the day in pictures, and videographer Jeff Platt captured the fun and festivities as well.

Cherishing the Day

But amid the celebration, Dean and Gary invited their guests to also seek the deeper meaning of the day. “Look around you,” they told their 400 friends and family members. “Here is a cross-section of Iowa.  In this room are folks at all levels of the income spectrum.  We have well-dressed fashionistas and those whose clothes reflect the care of long-term repair, conservation and thrift.  We have gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and straight individuals.  We have those who were born male and are now female, and those who were born female and today sport beards and dapper masculinity.  We have all flavors of religion represented, as well as those who profess no religion or belief whatsoever.  We have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.  We have pastors and priests, doctors and lawyers, those who serve us sandwiches at the counter and those who clean up after us when we are long gone from work or business.

“No one here is unacceptable.  No one here is ‘less than.’  You will be hard-pressed to find a gathering in the United States as diverse as this group of people in this room today.  And you will be hard-pressed to find a moment in time when you are as accepted for who you are, than this moment right now.  Cherish this moment.”

Monday, 18 January 2021 20:03

Lisa & Gretchen: A Romantic Garden Wedding

“Once you reach your mid-thirties, you know what your dating pool is,” states Gretchen. “You have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for in a partner.  When we met we knew pretty quickly that this was it for both of us.  We were together for about a year then we were engaged for another.”  Gretchen and Lisa met at Starbucks and two years later, they tied the knot.

Their goal was to create a very special experience for their guests, most of whom were close family and friends.  “I was raised with various traditions,” says Lisa, “but the great thing about a lesbian wedding was that no one we knew had been to one, including us, so we could combine traditions as we saw fit.  The end result was a traditional wedding with a few twists.  We didn’t have any limitations.  We pulled from other weddings we had seen and mixed the new elements with the old.”

“I have already been married before,” says Gretchen, “but Lisa hasn’t so I wanted to make it the best for her!”

“I was raised Catholic in a large family and every year someone was getting married,” says Lisa. “There were a lot of traditions including the priest and the pews.  I liked some of them but others I didn’t like at all.”  Lisa and Gretchen both agreed they did not like the tradition of being confined in the space of a church or the idea of a priest.  Instead, they chose the winery at Stanford Oaks Estates in Durham, California as the location for both the ceremony and the reception.

At Stanford Oaks Estates Lisa and Gretchen had access to a garden for the ceremony, a private place for the wedding party to get ready and an open reception area.  “One of the things we planned on purpose was a reception before the reception because we were nervous and our families were nervous and lots of people didn’t know what to expect,” says Gretchen.  As guests arrived at the winery and exited their cars for the garden ceremony, they were greeted and served chilled beer, wine and other beverages.  This provided everyone in attendance with the chance to relax, drink, socialize and get into a celebratory mood.

“We wanted everyone to mingle and then sit with their drink and enjoy the ceremony, “adds Lisa. “We wanted them to arrive and from the very first moment –celebrate.  It really worked because before the ceremony people were laughing, smiling and really upbeat.”

The wedding ceremony itself was short, approximately 25 minutes, and there was a butterfly release in the garden.  “We didn’t want to put our guests through solemn vows and get stuck in that mindset,” says Gretchen, “we wanted everyone to have fun.”

Gretchen and Lisa were both escorted by their fathers down the aisle and Lisa’s grandmother was the ring bearer.  Gretchen’s bridesmaids were her two daughters, ages 10 and 16.  Lisa’s sisters were her bridesmaids.  Lisa and Gretchen wanted spring colors to match the garden so the bridesmaids’ dresses were sage green and each one was styled just a little differently from the others.  The flowers were bright, primary colors to add flair and compliment the understated green.

The wedding was officiated by a close friend of Lisa’s family who collected personal stories from friends and family members and wove them into the ceremony itself. After the ceremony, wooded pathways with big oak trees and shrubbery led guests to an open reception space with streams of twinkling lights wound 40 feet into the trees and lanterns in the middle.  “The winery [Stanford Oaks] has its own personality,” says Gretchen, “We didn’t want to overwhelm the natural environment.  It had a simple, romantic feeling and was very pretty.” In the reception area, tables were decorated with white and sage green table clothes and the floral centerpieces matched the bright flowers used for the ceremony.

Both women believe that couples currently in the planning stages or recently engaged must carefully decide the kind of feeling they want to create at the wedding ceremony and reception.  “Ask yourselves how you want people to feel from the moment they step foot into the event,” they agreed, “and then think about the kind of atmosphere you want.”

Lisa and Gretchen’s reception continued the feelings of fun, joy and celebration that they had introduced before their ceremony.  The DJ provided them with a unique service: a website that allowed Gretchen and Lisa to log on and choose the songs they wanted for everything—from the walk down the aisle to the end of the reception.  They were very specific about the music.  “The age range at our wedding was 6 months to 90 years old,” says Lisa. “We wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone could enjoy themselves and we felt music was critical.”

Their first dance was Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra and both brides danced with their fathers during Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable featuring Natalie Cole. These songs were followed by some of music’s greatest including Dean Martin and Nina Simone.  “I wanted the DJ to go around and see what people wanted to hear and I wanted it to have a smoky, rat pack, lounge feeling,” says Lisa, “I knew it would get our older grandparents, aunts and uncles more involved and participating.”

“Before we had our first dance,” adds Gretchen, “our parents were dancing and we couldn’t get people off the dance floor.  The winery was like a snow globe of good feelings.”

In addition to the wonderful dance vibe, Gretchen and Lisa chose a unique cake from a small family-owned store to share with their guests.  It was a three-tiered cake and each tier featured a different flavor.  The first was chocolate mocha, the second was white with lemon filing and the top was chai apple.  “We had a forty-five minute consultation and tested out a number of varieties,” says Lisa, “we wanted to sketch out something that was simple and tasted good.”

“The cake went like wildfire,” adds Gretchen laughing.  “Beyond the initial cutting of the cake, we didn’t get any.  The guests were like piranhas.”

Gretchen and Lisa made a point to hire only small, local businesses for their wedding.  The winery is located in Lisa’s hometown where the population is around 500.  The DJ, catering and organic flowers were all provided by nearby businesses.  “We sought out small, family-owned companies to help us,” states Gretchen, “we knew we wanted that family-oriented kind of pride infused throughout the ceremony and reception.”

Another small business Gretchen and Lisa hired for their special day was Sarah Maren Photograhy.  “It was interesting because we have quite a few gay friends that are photographers, but we were referred to Sarah because she was just starting out and didn’t have photos of same-sex couples,” remembers Gretchen. “She wanted to add some same-sex images to her portfolio so first we had her take our engagement photos and they turned out really, really nice,” she continues, “so nice that Yahoo News picked them up for a photo montage on Valentine’s Day for a piece on weddings and same-sex marriage.”

“One tradition we did not subscribe to was taking staged photos after the ceremony,” adds Lisa.  “Spending an hour to take staged photos was no good. We wanted to join the party, let the evening unfold and let Sarah capture the celebration and whatever shape it took.”

“We were very pleased,” says Gretchen, “Sarah has done an amazing job.”

To end the day Gretchen and Lisa decided to put a very personal touch on the wedding favors.  “Lisa gathered together individual rocks and painted them as favors,” says Gretchen, “They were hand painted with stick figure couples that were us in various settings. We painted our names and the date of our wedding and then put them in boxes. That little touch pulled everyone together.  When they saw their rocks were different than others, the guests all got up and started looking at the different rocks.”

“They even started exchanging them,” adds Lisa, “And as they left you would hear guests say ‘Did you get your rock?’”

“Now when we go to people’s houses,” says Gretchen laughing, “they have their rocks prominently displayed as artwork.”

For many gay and lesbian couples, there is an added dimension to getting married and having a wedding.  Unlike straight couples, gay and lesbian couples must consider some less logistical and more emotional factors, especially if family members have never been involved in an event like this.  “At one point early in the evening, I was dancing with my mother when she started crying and said she knew the wedding wasn’t easy for me,” says Lisa, “I told her that is wasn’t easy, it was hard.  I had really put myself out there on a whim having this wedding.  I wanted everyone to understand that I am really dedicated and committed to Gretchen and the children. And I suddenly realized that my mother really got what a sacrifice it was for Gretchen and I to do this.”

“It wasn’t a wedding where everyone was happy and joyous,” Lisa continues, “It wasn’t like when a straight couple announces their engagement and everyone jumps up and down.  Coming out was hard for both of us and we had to talk to our families and see how everyone would feel.”  Lisa and Gretchen struggled through questions and comments like “is it really a wedding?” or “it’s not really a marriage.”  But during the course of that year, as their wedding date grew closer, they began to see feelings change.  Both women remember clearly the first time a family member called Gretchen Lisa’s fiancé and later her wife, and the moment when someone first referred to the ceremony as a marriage.  Gretchen and Lisa were thrilled to see this transformation happen with both of their families.

“For couples that are thinking about getting engaged and married, I have a little advice,” says Gretchen, “Be yourself in the process, have humility and keep open lines of communication. It can be a growth opportunity for all of your family relationships if you want it to be.”

“I had to do status checks with my parents,” adds Lisa, “I would ask them how they were doing and if there were any issues.  By keeping the lines of communication open, in the end everyone got it.  As a matter of fact, the people we thought wouldn’t get it were the first people to jump on the bandwagon.”

The two were so afraid of telling Lisa’s grandmother of their engagement that they sent her parents to share the news.  When Lisa’s father announced Gretchen and Lisa would be married, Lisa’s grandmother responded as if it was exactly what she had expected.  In one of the most memorable moments of support, Lisa’s grandmother stopped during her husband’s 90th birthday party to take out the antique china and ask Gretchen and Lisa to choose one as a wedding gift.  “It felt so good to have these people as our allies,” Gretchen says. “This event didn’t heal all wounds.  We still have a ways to go with some family members, but most of our family has recognized the legitimacy of our relationship and will support us in the future.”

 

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.

First Meeting

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.”

The Proposal

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.”

The Festivities

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.)