Maybe it’s because they already lived together. Maybe it’s because they were already registered as domestic partners. Or it could just be that they were in their 30s. But for two D.C. same-sex couples planning to take advantage of the District’s newly won marriage law — set to take effect next month barring congressional intervention — popping the proverbial question was more of a logical progression in a series of ever-increasing commitments as opposed to a starry-eyed shock.
Both couples were making plans before Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the Council-approved same-sex marriage bill in December. Aisha Mills, 32, and her partner of six years, Danielle Moodie, 30, have lived together for four years in Columbia Heights and started thinking marriage last May when the Council passed a measure recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
“It was a little bit of happenstance that our engagement coordinated with that,” Mills says. “As we thought about picking a date, we weren’t realizing that D.C. would have marriage soon.”
The two, who met through mutual friends at Chaos, planned to wed in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage is legal, then have it recognized in Washington.
By the time Paul Heins, 36, asked Matt DelNero, 33, to marry him at Blue Duck Tavern in D.C.’s west end in August, 2008, they were on their second home and had been together about eight years.
“Paul asked me just after my birthday and of course I said yes,” DelNero says. “At this point there was no doubt. We’d already established a life, bought a condo, he got me a ring, then I followed up later with a ring for him.”
The two met in 2001. DelNero, a telecommunications attorney, was in law school in Boston but spent the summer of 2001 in Washington. He went on a date with a friend of Heins’ but they didn’t hit it off. He soon met Heins, a musician, and the possibility for something long term became apparent.
“Not to sound corny, but we knew pretty quickly that we had each found the one,” DelNero says. “Everything proceeded quite naturally from that.”
Their first two years together were long distance. Twice monthly they’d take turns visiting each other in Boston and Washington. Those were happy but also slightly frustrating times.
“Those were the first two years of our relationship so there’s always that va va va voom factor,” Heins says. “It made those weekends all the more special and passionate and exciting.”
“But it also put pressure on those times because you wanted it all to work out,” DelNero says. “You wouldn’t want to squabble on those days.”
Living in the same town and house made sense, they say.
“It just got sort of more natural and normal being in the same space,” DelNero says.
“It’s nice,” Heins adds, “to be able to enjoy each other every day.”
Marriage options increased over time. In the early years after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, it wasn’t an option for out-of-state couples. That eventually changed and the couple considered marrying there and, like Mills and Moodie, having it recognized in D.C. But getting married at home is more meaningful, both couples say.
“We were there when Council voted and it was extremely exciting,” Moodie, who works for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says. “That 11 of the members had voted for marriage was extremely exciting and not at all surprising because D.C. is very progressive … we were thrilled to be able to get married at home.”
DelNero and Heins had been exploring venues in Massachusetts when D.C. approved its new law.
“We feel lucky and excited to get married in our own jurisdiction,” Heins says.
Mills is the president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families and was active in the effort to secure same-sex marriage rights in Washington. She’d previously worked for Human Rights Campaign. She’s confident the law will go into effect as expected in March.
“We have certainly done our due diligence with our friends on Capitol Hill,” she says. “They’ve repeatedly told us they support home rule and there’s no sign of any real energy in supporting any type of intervention on Capitol Hill.”
DelNero and Heins weren’t directly involved, though they’ve donated money to activist causes.
“We’re very aware that we’re benefitting from other people’s hard work and we’re grateful for that,” DelNero says.
Neither couple has chosen a date but both say their weddings will be sometime this year. Mills and Moodie plan to get legally married in D.C. but have a small ceremony in Long Island, where Moodie’s from. They’re thinking late spring/early summer. They’re not religious but will have an interfaith minister preside. They each plan to wear gowns and have a maid of honor but not a large wedding party. They’re writing their own vows.
“For us it’s really important for our wedding to be a reflection of our lives together,” Moodie says. “So yes, we’ll have a small bridal party but not in cookie cutter dresses and outfits following us around. It will be people who’ve been really instrumental in our relationship being successful. We’re very involved in how we want our ceremony to look. Not, ‘Do you take so-and-so,’-insert-name-here-type of ceremony. It will be very much created for the two of us.”
DelNero and Heins joke that their engagement has been prolonged because there’s no bride to take over the planning. They recently started attending a Lutheran church near their Beekman Place residence but aren’t sure if they’ll get married there or at another church. They can’t remember offhand what all they’ve discussed.
“Oh, what we’re going to wear. We talked about that a little, didn’t we Paul?,” DelNero says. “I think we said simple elegant suits rather than tuxes.”
Heins says he likes the thought of getting a new suit but says it’s not as important as who’s there.
They slip into finishing-each-other’s-sentences-mode when describing their ceremony.
“We do know it will be a relatively small gathering,” DelNero says. “We’ve been to a lot of weddings that …” He pauses to think of the right word and Heins finishes — “That have been ostentatious,” Heins says.
“The ones we’ve really enjoyed have been the celebrations of couples with their family and friends that aren’t so much … ” DelNero says, “… the glitz and glamour,” Heins interjects, “… overdone and, how to put it, overstated,” DelNero finishes. “But meaningful,” Heins adds.
They’re forgoing a gift registry and asking for donations to charity instead. They also say they feel guilty spending a lot of money to rent a large reception hall.
“We would like it to be simple,” Heins says. “Not cheap, but not so outrageous that it’s out of context with our lives in the world.”
The couples also agree that domestic partnerships didn’t cut it for them even though many of the legal rights are the same.
“Everyone knows what marriage means,” Moodie says. “You walk in a store with a wedding band and say, ‘No, I’m DP’ed, it means this, it means that. I still have to make adjustments but everybody knows the weight, recognition and value that comes with marriage.”
“We tried separate but equal before and we know it doesn’t work,” Mills says.
Entering a domestic partnership was anticlimactic for the men.
“What’s funny is we both met at an office at lunchtime in this stark room,” Heins says. “We signed some paper, said, ‘OK,’ and went on our separate ways. I don’t think we even had lunch together.”
“It certainly didn’t feel like a marriage and we didn’t treat it like one,” DelNero says.
Ultimately, though, it’s love that drives these relationships.
Moodie says “a lot of compromise” has sustained her relationship with Mills, who calls it “a genuine partnership.”
“We just knew early on this was it for the two of us. We were head-over-heels in love, knew this was our feeling and were ready for the ultimate commitment,” Mills says.
“It’s hard to put into words or define something that just fits,” DelNero says.
“There are just so many things we do together that really work for us,” Heins says. “The times we’re silly, the times we’re serious, the kinds of jokes we tell, the silly voices we use, the kinds of things I see other couples interact and I don’t necessarily see that, though maybe they have their own little quirks and things. When Matt and I are together, it’s like our language, verbal and nonverbal.”