Finding Love in the Last Frontier

Eric Braman & Kris Katkus | Oregon

UPDATED May 2014: Since Eric & Kris shared their story with Freedom to Marry, same-sex couples in Oregon won the freedom to marry when a federal judge ruled in favor of marriage.

On one of the hottest days of last summer, Eric Braman and Kris Katkus laid in a small, dingy room in a basement in Portland, Oregon, working hard to stay cool as they were house-sitting for a friend. Kris had recently returned from his brother's wedding on the East Coast, and he was talking about the special event with Eric - how great it was to celebrate his brother and new sister-in-law with all of his family members and friends he had grown up alongside.

Kris' proposal to Eric was simple - just two people who loved each other coming to the realization that they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other.

The conversation turned to Eric and Kris' own relationship, and what their future would look like: At the end of the summer, they would have to move to different cities, with Eric working at the University of Oregon in Eugene and Kris starting graduate school at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

"We were talking about how much we loved each other and how important it was to stay connected despite the distance," Kris said. "We both basically said we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together."

Without fanfare, Kris turned to Eric: "Do you want to get engaged?"

Eric did. And so they were.

"It was the perfect engagement for us," Eric said. "We over-talked it, overanalyzed it, and eventually came to the conclusion that yes, yes we do want to get engaged. Yes - we do want to get married. That moment of clarity was something that neither of us will ever forget." 

Kris' proposal to Eric didn't involve any rings or an elaborate trip or any treacly romantic gestures - it was just two people who loved each other staying cool on a hot day and coming to the realization that they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other.

Now, Eric and Kris are adapting to their inconvenient year living separately from each other - but the 45-minute distance has made them appreciate their time together more than ever.

"It's not ideal living separate, but we know that this time apart will pay off with a greater success for our careers and our future together," Eric said.

They also have two years under their belt living closer together, first in Anchorage, Alaska, where they were both devoted to service terms through AmeriCorps.

During his very first week in The Last Frontier (Alaska, where Kris was born and raised), Eric met Kris at a game night filled with AmeriCorps members, and from there, the men began hanging out and getting to know each other.

They claim their official first date as October 1, 2011, when they hiked Bear Mountain in Alaska, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and shared miniature bottles of champagne as a celebratory gesture at the summit (below).

"From there it really was an AmeriCorps romance," Eric laughed. "We lived on a shoestring budget and enjoyed Alaskan adventures. And Game of Thrones." 

From there, they moved somewhat quickly, with Kris moving in with Eric in January, and the couple searching for a dog together in April. They met their dog, Sir Ackley Waffle Katbra - Ackley, for short - and began their family.

As they wrapped up their year in Alaska before moving to Salem, OR, Eric and Kris participated in Love is Love, a photography project by Mitch Kitter and Shalem Matthew of Treft.Punkt Studio featuring same-sex couples in Alaska. The project, which eventually became a book and an exhibit - and is now planning on touring across the United States with help from a Kickstarter campaign - is an amazing testament to the love and commitment that couples across the state share.

For Love is Love, Eric and Kris relived their first date, going on a hike and spraying each other with champagne.

"It really captured the first year of our relationship in such a real, genuine way," Eric said. "I am so head over heels in love with Kris, and the pictures produced really show the goofiness but sincerity of our relationship. It is awesome to have these photos to remind me of one of the greatest years of my life - the year that I found the person who made me truly happy."

Since their engagement, Kris and Eric have developed more plans for a wedding celebration: They have engagement rings, which Eric describes as "perfectly unique, simple rings made from recast antique patterns and recycled silver." Here's a Vine from the day they picked up their rings:

They'd like to tie the knot on New Year's Day in 2015. "We want to invite family and our closest friends to a small, intimate wedding that will conclude with us saying 'I do' as we ring in the new year," Kris said.

Part of why they chose 2015 for their wedding date is that currently in Oregon, same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry. Right now, Oregon United for Marriage is leading the effort to win marriage for same-sex couples through a November 2014 ballot initiative that would strike down a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to different-sex couples and replacing it with an amendment that guarantees this freedom to all families. 

Kris and Eric hope that by the time of their ceremony on January 1, 2015, all people in Oregon can marry the person they love. They're already working with Oregon United for Marriage to make sure that love wins at the ballot this fall.

"We hope to see Oregon pass marriage equality during the 2014 vote," Eric said. "We believe and have hope that marriage equality is readily on the horizon - and that's important to us. While the core of our relationship is our love, we want government recognition, just like any other couple. We want our engagement to be leading to something more than just a commitment between two hearts."

Learn more about Love is Love HERE. And check out photos of 10 other Alaska couples photographed for Love is Love HERE

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