The ACLU Is Helping These 5 Couples Plan (Il)legal Weddings

By Daniel Reynolds

Originally published on Advocate.com April 04 2014 5:00 AM ET

The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the winners of My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding, a contest in which five gay or lesbian couples won $5,000 each toward the wedding of their dreams. The catch? They all live in U.S. states where same-sex marriage is illegal.

To circumvent this, the human rights organization will help transport each couple across state lines in creative ways, such as hot air balloon or a horse-drawn carriage, to a destination where they can legally marry.

By doing so, the ACLU hopes to draw attention to the "patchwork of state laws that allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry in 16 states and the District of Columbia but deny those same couples that freedom in the rest of the country," according to a statement by the organization.

In celebration of their pending nuptials, The Advocate asked the five winning couples of My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding to share the story of how they fell in love, and how they hope their "(Il)legal Wedding" will help their wedded bliss become a legal reality in their home states.

And if you missed the contest, don’t worry—the ACLU has announced a new sweepstakes in which five winners will be given an all-expenses-paid trip for two to New York in May. Once there, the lucky pairs will be able to “crash” the wedding reception of the couples and take part in the “Big Gay (Il)legal Weddings” celebration. Just sign their online wedding guestbook, which also serves as a petition for marriage equality in these couples' home states.

Brian Jenson, 30, & Jeromy Manke, 27

From: Reno, Nev.

Together: Three years

Why is it important to you as a couple to be legally married when your home state won’t recognize the union?
We want our marriage to be recognized because of the commitment and love that we share. We have something that's very important to us. It's really important to take that step in our relationship. The tradition of marriage is super important, our families are super important to us, and having a family is very much one of our goals in our future. So having a marriage that is recognized is not only important to us but also for our future children.

Tell us how you met and fell in love!
[Their romance began at a coffee shop, and after that, it was a whirlwind.] We were so enraptured in the moment, and we are very lucky to still feel that.
 
What are you most looking forward to about being lawfully wedded spouses?
We'll finally be able to say, "This is my husband," and we really look forward to that. We'd really like to say, "This is my husband," because we like to be out about who we are. It’s almost an insurance policy of having someone there to witness your life. Having someone there to share things with.

 

Lindsey (née Wagoner), 27, & Megan Smith, 28

From: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Together: Over three years

Why is it important to you as a couple to be legally married when your home state won’t recognize the union?
It’s not about just saying we're married, it's about a validation. It's saying that you're married: We respect each other, we love each other, we trust each other, we are committed. Because Tennessee doesn’t recognize marriage for same-sex couples, if I got sick, we couldn't visit each other in the hospital. Someday when we have a child, we want them to feel like their family is just as important and real as any other family. It makes them feel like less because they can't say that our moms are married.

Tell us how you met and fell in love!
Megan: A friend of mine introduced us. We've been head over heels in love, and we fall more in love every day. It's like a movie. When I hear these love songs on the radio or see these movies, I feel like they're about us. We take time every day to say "I love you."
 
What are you most looking forward to about being lawfully wedded spouses?
Everything! We want everybody else to know about our commitment. Even if it doesn't count in our home state, we want that level of commitment, under the law. It's making it official. Declaring it to everybody.

 

Rafael Vasquez, 24, & Humberto Niebla, 22

From: Phoenix

Together: Six years

Pets: Two puppies named Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick

Why is it important to you as a couple to be legally married when your home state won’t recognize the union?
It’s important to us to be legally married even though the state Arizona won’t recognize it, many people in Arizona will. We we want that recognition that we are just like anyone else. Love is love.

Tell us how you met and fell in love!
We met at a party and then found each other on MySpace. Our first date we went to get sushi and then watched The Devil Wears Prada.

Rafael: His heart was beating so fast and so loud that I could hear it. That was the moment. It really was love at first sight.
 
What are you most looking forward to about being lawfully wedded spouses?
It’s important to us just to know that our marriage is going to be official. That we will have that recognition from everyone. We’re excited for our families to be there with us at our wedding.

 

Jeff Robertson, 29, & Jeremiah Pyant, 28

From: Houston

Together: Over four years

Why is it important to you as a couple to be legally married when your home state won’t recognize the union?
It’s important because we love each other and want to share that with the world. The Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest puts a face and a story on what we're trying to do. It's an eye-opener for people. ... We love each other no matter what!

Tell us how you met and fell in love!
Jeremiah: I was working a flight from Atlanta to Milwaukee. We exchanged numbers and emails. After a few months of emailing and Facebooking, we planned to meet in Milwaukee. ... We fell in love at Applebee's on our second date! I told Jeff on the second date, "You're gonna be the person that I spend the rest of my life with."
 
What are you most looking forward to about being lawfully wedded spouses?
We want to share our love with the world!

 

Tamara Sheffield, 44, & Maryja Mee, 45

From: Salisbury, N.C.

Together: 24 years

Pets: Two Siberian huskies named Nirrti and Gypsy

Why is it important to you as a couple to be legally married when your home state won’t recognize the union?
It’s about standing up in front of your friends and family. It’s about letting everyone know we are no different than any other couple. We can move forward even if North Carolina can’t. We don’t need to wait for North Carolina to get married.

Tell us how you met and fell in love!
Maryja: We met in college. I was immediately drawn to her. It all made sense to me when I met Tamara.
Tamara: The moment I knew she was the one, was when we came out to our parents, and it didn’t go well, and they tried to separate us. I knew I couldn’t live without her.
 
What are you most looking forward to about being lawfully wedded spouses?
Being able to say "my wife," and it’s the truth, it’s reality.