When the "First Comes Love" project began in March of 2009, Proposition 8 had just outlawed same-sex marriages in California and the Defense of Marriage Act still barred the federal government from recognizing gay and lesbian marriages. Four years later, that section of DOMA has been declared unconstitutional and Proposition 8 has been defeated -- for good.
Still, same-sex marriages are not recognized in 32 states. A deep misunderstanding of LGBT relationships remains. So the "First Comes Love" project captures the stories of real couples who want to help educate those who aren't LGBT, while celebrating those of us who are.
The goal of "First Comes Love" is to provide a glimpse into the "everyday" lives of couples who have been in their relationships for 10, 20, 30, 40, and even 50 years. B. Proud photographed the couples and presents their portraits in a straightforward black and white.
The "First Comes Love" exhibition opens Friday at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. For more information, visit WayGay.org. See more photos from the gallery here, and for more of B. Proud's work, click here.
See photos and stories provided by the project on the following pages:
"I'd say that we're just like everybody," Juan says. "We're just like our neighbors across the street who have a set of dogs, and they walk to the park everyday just like we do. You know, everybody has their ups and downs. Everybody has a home, responsibility, work, job, life. I guess we just do it together. I don't think we are any different than anybody else. "
"We did something abnormal in the gay world when we first met ... we concentrated on ourselves," said Anthony. "There was no promiscuity. We were in a relationship for almost 13-14 years, and when it was right for us, we opened the doors to play around collectively with other people."
"We are, as a family, a real mix," says Len. "That, among many other things, has made it interesting and wonderful, if sometimes complicated."
Del's pickup line: "Would you like to come into my office and have a smoke?" Harriet answered, "I'll come into your office, but I don't smoke." And so it began. "It was 1969. Nobody was out," Del remembers. "You went to clubs in New York to dance, but you were always afraid of being raided. You kept everything secret and circulated discreetly."
"We're committed even though we're not recognized," says Ruth. "I've worked over the years to say we're just as legitimate as my six siblings who were married in the Catholic Church and are acknowledged. To find somebody in your life that you can share a relationship with and keep it going with is probably one of the most sacred things that can happen. And I think it's a unique thing and it's a lot of work. We are committed to the relationship. I know a lot of folks who have walked away from long-term relationships for no other reason than they just were not committed."
"When I think back to the time of being with her," Sandra says. "I think that I am one of the luckiest girls in the world. Some people don't get a little glimmer of what I had, and I had it for 23 years and we never lost the magic. We really didn't. We were totally in love. I think we were more in love every year were together."
"Our relationship is by no means traditional," ABilly says. "It's not traditional in the sense that a lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender couple would think of us. And it's not traditional in how a heterosexual couple would think of a couple being together for 30 years. We've been able to mold our relationship in a way that makes sense for us."
"We are so far out of the closet that we live on the front lawn."
John credits the fact that they are very, very different as a reason they have stayed together for so long. "It's a positive thing. I am social, Chris is the quiet one. I cook, he cleans up. He's the philosopher, I'm the doer. We complement each other."
"We've been together for so long, then what are we if we're not married?" Michael says. They actually wish that the gay community would just design or invent a form of marriage that is more creative in spirit and approach, that is more organic and not just a replica of heterosexual marriage, which they feel is not a particularly successful role model. They wish that society could create a new kind of marriage with new kinds of vows to each other that would surpass the rigidity of the standard view of marriage. As Dan says, "If you don't have love every single day for the person that you're with, then no marriage certificate is going to be worth anything."