Eddie and Jeff ‘complete the journey’ with wedding in New York

Editors' Note: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 marks the first anniversary of legal marriages between same-sex couples in New York. To celebrate, Freedom to Marry is sharing the stories of same-sex couples who tied the knot this year, celebrating their love and commitment with beautiful ceremonies and gatherings of their friends, family members, and other loved ones. Here, we share the story of Eddie Casson and Jeff Saunders, who married on March 31, 2012. Read all of our stories about the first year of the freedom to marry in New York.

Eddie Casson and Jeff Saunders never planned on having a big wedding. But on March 31, 2012, as they looked out at the 200 guests that had assembled in the Alger House in New York City for their wedding, they knew they had made the right decision in expanding the scope of the event.

"Our first intention was to go do it very quietly and then have a great vacation," Eddie said. "But we ended up having so many people who wanted to come that we just couldn't do it small. We had people I went to grade school with, our families, our new friends, our old friends, people from everywhere we've lived during all parts of our lives. You meet a lot of people when you've been together for 24 years."

Eddie and Jeff have lived together in New York City for the past eight years; they moved there after meeting in Washington, D.C. over a decade before. Both men grew up in small towns - Jeff from a rural area in upstate New York and Eddie from a farm town in Indiana, which Eddie not-so-sentimentally refers to as "the sticks."

The couple has loved living in New York; it's provided them with excellent employment opportunities (Eddie's a retired hairstylist and makeup artist, and Jeff works as a commercial COO), but it's also provided them with the freedom to marry.

Before the New York state legislature passed the bill allowing for all same-sex couples to marry last year, however, Eddie and Jeff had already decided to get married. On June 23, 2011 - the couple's twenty-third anniversary - Jeff surprised Eddie with a ring and asked for his hand in marriage. "He had decided he was going to propose and say, 'Let's give New York a year and see what happens,'" Eddie said. "That was his intention."

Of course, the next day - June 24, 2011 - the legislature approved the marriage bill, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the freedom to marry into law. It was the perfect anniversary present: the near-instant ability to marry each other in the state where they lived, loved, and paid taxes.

"It was very magical," Eddie reflected. "It really was one of those unbelievable things in the universe."

Eddie said that his engagement compelled him reflect on his childhood and the difficulties he faced as a kid.

"It's weird," he said. "I remember when I was young and living in southern Indiana, and I knew nothing about gay life or relationships. The one thing I had always heard was that gay people are incapable of commitment and incapable of being with one person. And I remember thinking, 'Oh my god? I'm incapable of that? Because that's really what I want.' If I had made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish in my life, growing old with the person I loved was my No. 1 thing. And I've had that with Jeff."

Once Eddie and Jeff finally got married in March, Eddie said that something felt slightly different. "Being married hasn't really changed my day-to-day life," he said. "But there is this weird feeling that you almost can't explain - a feeling that you've completed something. Like the journey's been a little more completed."

The couple's wedding weekend and honeymoon week were bittersweet, in some ways. For months before the wedding, their dog Alex, who had been an integral part of their lives for 14 years, had been battling cancer.

"I held her in my lap a month before the wedding and asked that she make it through the wedding and the following week in the country near Hudson," Eddie said, adding, "We wanted to be able to share our honeymoon with her. Eddie and Jeff got their wish, as Alex spent her last week with the couple on their honeymoon before passing away.

The men have supported each other in the wake of Alex's passing - a support that Eddie says comes naturally for each other.

"We've had a wonderful 24 years together," Eddie said. "There's been no drama, no break-ups, no problems. We've just been really committed, and for both of us, that was something that we were looking for. We knew we found that in each other."

Check out photos from Eddie's and Jeff's wedding!

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