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Creating new traditions
When Washingtonians Roby Chavez and Chris Roe decided to get married in December, there was no hesitation. Figuring out how to go about it, though, required months of thought and planning.
“This has been a bit of a struggle throughout the whole process,” said Chavez, 46, a reporter for Fox 5 news. “How much of the tradition do you jump on and how much of your own do you make up because as a gay community this is also new, so we don’t really know what a tradition is for us. So we’ve been kind of trying to figure out what other people might want to duplicate, what things are individual for us.”
Even basics like engagement rings, required thought. Roe, 45, didn’t get one before he proposed the night same-sex marriage was legalized in the District in December. He popped the question just before Chavez was due on the air covering the story for Fox.
“I’d been watching the news and the whole community, well, at least the whole gay community, was really amped,” Roe says. “I just felt the spirit and said this is what I’m gonna do. The ring came later.”
As a lark, the two got large, gaudy costume rings — Roe’s green, Chavez’s yellow — for a few weeks before picking out their wedding bands last weekend.
The two met at a Memorial Day party through mutual friends in 2005. Roe is from a family of farmers and teachers in Monticello, Wis., but had been in the San Francisco area for about 10 years. He eventually accepted a position working in education policy for the non-profit Business High Education Forum.
Chavez, born in Denver but raised mostly in Matthews, La., ended up in Washington “as a fluke” after stints in TV journalism in Atlanta, New York and Dallas.
They say it was love at first sight though they didn’t immediately start dating.
“I told him when I first met him, ‘You’re the one,’” Chavez says. “I don’t know, there was just something about him. They say you know. And it’s not really my style to do that. I’m not the kind of person who will confess my love automatically but I did. There was just a genuine sense of his being and I liked that. I just remember a nice hug he gave me and it was good.”
Roe says he felt the same.
“I thought it was unusual but I felt very similarly. I just tend to be more reserved and more shy than he is. I was freaked out a little but I also felt that connection as well.”
The couple was affectionate during a break in wedding planning at the Wilson House two weeks ago. Sitting at a makeshift table in the dining room so as not to sully the antique-filled home of the former president, Chavez and Roe sit close. They’re both trim and well dressed. They look at each other and giggle at the most innocuous questions.
“We started out thinking intimate and small but then we realized our lives aren’t that small,” Chavez says. “Just with our immediate family and friends, we got to about 200 people just in that. So it’s a little bigger.”
They’re planning an outdoor ceremony on the Wilson House grounds. Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington where Chavez sometimes attends, will officiate. Their nieces and nephews will wave rainbow ribbons and a surprise entertainer will perform while two “best couples,” gay couples who have been friends of the two for years, will stand with them as they take their vows wearing matching Calvin Klein tuxes. A honeymoon trip to Greece will follow.
Rob Clemenz has known Chavez since they were in college together. He and his partner, Rick DuPlantier, are in the wedding party.
“When I first laid eyes on Chris, I knew he was perfect for Roby,” Clemenz says. “I know this really means the world for Roby so it’s very poignant and it’s just a special thing. I never ever dreamed that we would come this far and something like this would be in our lifetimes. I’m beyond happy standing there for their wedding. It’s just wonderful.”
Chavez says he didn’t call Roe immediately after meeting him because, despite the strong initial connection, dating wasn’t on his radar. He’d been career focused for many years but finally decided to take some time off for dating.
“I had three phone numbers,” Chavez says. “He was the second date. I never made it to the third.”
They live together at 12th and U streets, N.W., and make time for each other, despite disparate work schedules — Roe works days, Chavez nights. Roe waits up for Chavez every night until he gets home around midnight. Chavez promised Roe if he moved in with him — farther from his job than he’d been — he’d give him a lift to work each day, a promise he’s kept.
So what makes it work? Chavez calls it “the brake and the pedal.”
“I’m kind of all over the place and moving very quickly,” he says. “He’s very methodical and thoughtful. When I’m going too fast, he puts the brakes on and when he’s not going fast enough, I kind of push him along. We’ve just kind of learned how to connect.”
They also say the small-town values they grew up with are complementary. And they get a kick out of hearing a pop song from the ’80s and realizing they both know the lyrics.
There’s only the slightest acknowledgment of occasional friction during a 40-minute interview. They read together at night and on the way to work. Chavez mentions a couple relationship books they’ve used to help through occasional “issues in the relationship.”
“Ultimately we just talk,” he says. “We talk a lot. We have 30 minutes here or there or at night, we talk.”
Chavez says the marriage gives him a chance to turn the tables on his viewers. Getty Images photographers have followed them through the planning process.
“I knock on people’s doors all the time,” he says. “Tell me your happiness, tell me your sadness, tell me what’s going on in your life. I should be able to share with the same openness. Plus we don’t see a lot of people talking about gay marriage. I just thought I’m not gonna miss a chance to let them hear my story. It would be easier, actually, to just do it privately, but I feel I have a responsibility.”
The chance to play it big and include extended family, who have been supportive, they say, was strategic in a way.
“They’re the people who’ll have to vote the next time it comes up on the ballot,” Roe says.
Clemenz says it’s about more than the couple.
“This is so much more than a mere marriage,” he says. “It’s a symbolic leap of faith for the progress and the edification of D.C. and really for the nation. It’s thought provoking and it’s provocative. Roby’s stood up time and time again in his life. He’s a true leader.”
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