The Next Step: Three Couples Talk About Their Wedding Decisions

With the explosion of states legalizing same-sex marriages over the past few years, on top of last year’s decision to overrule significant portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, more and more couples are taking new steps in their relationships and getting married. The lifespan of these relationships range from months to decades, with one common factor: a newfound ability to have the federal government legally recognize their unions.

Of course, with marriage equality not available in all 50 states yet – including Georgia – many couples are finding different ways of having their weddings. Many couples are traveling to other states to have their ceremonies. Some take family members or friends with them, while others have a second ceremony or reception for their friends and family to help celebrate when they return home.

We spoke with three couples, each together for over a decade, who were either recently married or plan to be married in the near future about their plans, the importance of getting married, how they maintain their relationships and more.

couple1

Matt Colunga and Chris Smith

Napa Valley, CA • November 2013

Matt Colunga, general manager of Swinging Richards, and Chris Smith celebrated their tenth anniversary as a couple by getting married on November 13, 2013 in Napa Valley, California.

How did the two of you meet?

Matt Colunga: I was a DJ at Swinging Richards, and he was a dancer.

Did you know each other before you started seeing each other?

MC: Nah. He’d been here a week. He had just moved here from San Francisco.

What led to your decision to get married?

MC: It was our 10-year anniversary last year, and we always wanted to get married. We were supposed to go to London for a trip, and it ended up getting cancelled. So we thought it would be nice to go get married in California. Then my family decided they were going to come.

How did you two choose Napa Valley?

MC: He moved here from California, and we were going to San Francisco on vacation. My mom, stepdad and sister were going to meet us in San Francisco for our vacation, and be there when we got married.

What do you think has made your relationship work?

MC: Being able to talk! Cooperation, talking, sitting down and making sure that you both enjoy each other. When you stop enjoying each other, you know, it’s going to go by the wayside.

Couple 2

John Walker and Ken Hinkle

Seattle, WA • May 2014

John Walker and Ken Hinkle married after 16 years as a couple at a courthouse in Seattle, Washington on May 23, 2014.

How did the two of you meet?

We met in Pittsburgh – we both lived in Pittsburgh 16 years ago, and it was a blind date.

What led to your decision to get married at this point in your relationship?

Well, I’d say that the biggest thing, being gay, we’re always fighting for equal rights and the same equality benefits as everyone else, and we honestly thought in our parents’ lifetimes that it would be legal. It’s been legal in other cities for years now, and our parents and families aren’t getting any younger, and I just thought, we’ve been trying to vote on this and participating in the fight for equality – why not take advantage of this and seal the deal?

How did you two choose Seattle?

The cards fell into place. We were thinking of a city we haven’t been to – we love to travel, and it’s a city we haven’t been to in a long time. Probably 14 years. And it is one of the first cities to become legal. And we have always wanted to go to Alaska on vacation. So three hours after our wedding, we all got on a cruise and went to Alaska.

Who was involved in your wedding?

My mom and siblings were there, and Ken’s father and his siblings were there. And some friends and nieces. We have full support from our families.

You’ve been together for 16 years. What do you think has made your relationship work?

We’re complete opposites, and we have great communication skills with each other. What’s kept us together for 16 years is not only our love for each other, but having 100% support from both sides really helps in a gay relationship. We’ve been lucky.

The two of you recently built a house together, is that correct?

We did! We look at our first 15 years together as a really good trial period. We didn’t rush into things together. Marriage takes things to the next level. Building the house – we rented before, but we have built this house up from the ground. We have put our stamps on everything. Decorating it, customizing it – it’s a symbol of where we are in our lives right now.

couple3

Jamie Arnold and Nicholas Bellayuto

Rhode Island • TBD

Jamie Arnold and Nicholas Bellayuto joined together in a commitment ceremony back in June 2002, in front of Jamie’s family members and several other couples at Atlanta Pride, after being together for several months. Twelve years later, they’re looking at making the commitment legal.

Where was your commitment ceremony?

At the Park Pavillion at Atlanta Pride back in 2002.

How did the two of you meet? Did you know each other before you started dating?

Jamie Arnold: An MSN chatroom, actually.I lived in Lawrenceville, and he lived in Warner Robins. I was moving to Midtown, and my first night in my apartment in Midtown, he came up for our first date, and that date ended up lasting three days. He left for a day to go back home, came back and was with me for five days, and then he went home to Texas for Christmas break, and we’ve been happily together ever since.

What led you two to do a commitment ceremony, especially so early in your relationship?

Nicholas Bellayuto: I wanted to make him happy, so I proposed to him a week before and asked if he wanted to commit to me.

JA: And I said yes!

Who else was involved in your ceremony?

JA: It was just my family, because his wasn’t around – they live in Texas. So it was just my mother, my sister, my brother, and then one of his old college friends.

NB: And it was done at the mass commitment ceremony at Pride.

Now, you two are talking about getting married. Why are you considering it at this point?

JA: Yes. We go to Rhode Island every year during the month of June, and I want to get married this year. He wants to wait one more year so we can save up money and plan everything, and have a huge wedding with family members there and all of our friends there.

NB: He wants to get married next week so we can take part in federal benefits.

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