UPDATED October 2013: Since Joe & Thos shared their story with Freedom to Marry, same-sex couples in New Jersey won the freedom to marry when a judge in NJ ruled in favor of marriage in October 2013.
Last year, Joseph DeIorio made up his mind about what he wanted to do in 2013: He was madly in love with his partner of over four years, Thos Shipley, and he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with him. "My New Year's resolution for 2013 was to propose to my love and be married," Joe said.
With three months to spare, Joe has already achieved both goals - he and Thos got engaged in March and married in September. Now, inspired by the amazing highs they've already experienced in 2013, the men are hoping that by the end of the year, their marriage will be legally respected where they live, in Roselle Park, NJ.
It's already been an incredible year for Joe and Thos. In March, Joe orchestrated a grandiose marriage proposal in the middle of Times Square in New York City, enlisting the help of their friends and family members, plus the Fort Washington Collegiate Church Choir and other musical groups. The proposal recalled the couple's first date from five years earlier, when Thos asked to hold Joe's hand for the first time in the middle of Times Square.
"This time, I asked to take his hand," Joe laughed, adding, "But this time, in marriage, on the ruby red steps of Times Square, on bended knee in front of hundreds of people to witness." Watch video from the proposal (Joe gets on one knee just before the 7-minute mark):
That was March 24, 2013 - just one day before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two freedom to marry cases - the lawsuit against California's Proposition 8 and the challenge to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied legally married same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Joe and Thos traveled down to Washington, D.C. to rally in front of the Supreme Court alongside thousands of other marriage supporters.
"It was a moment in time we will never forget," Thos said.
Of course, just three months later, the Supreme Court struck down the central part of DOMA and restored the freedom to marry to California, taking a huge step forward for marriage nationwide and ensuring that once Thos and Joe married, they would be able to access many of the federal protections of marriage.
Still, when they tied the knot on September 14 at their church, Fort Washington Collegiate Church in the Fort Washington area of Upper Manhattan, they knew that it would not be respected in New Jersey. "A simple crossing over the George Washington Bridge demotes our marriage to a civil union," Thos said. "We hope New Jersey soon recognizes our relationship as a legal marriage, just as New York does."
Joe and Thos met over five years ago in New York City at a kick-off rally for Braking the Cycle, a 300-mile bicycle fundraiser for the NYC LGBT Center's HIV/AIDS Services where event participants sign up for teams. Joe had participated in the fundraiser before, but Thos was taking on the challenge for the first time that year.
"Are you on a team?" Joe said as he approached Thos, who shook his head and replied "no." Joe was quick with a response: "Well - you are now!"
Over the next few months the two trained together, and their friendship developed into a romance. Joe, who was at the time the mayor of Roselle Park, NJ, attended many events in his community and nearby neighborhoods, and Thos, a renowned jazz vocalist, would accompany Joe to many of them.
"As time went on, our relationship grew," Joe said. "The best description of our relationship would be comparable to 'Yin and Yang.' Thos' artistic and joy for living balances my practical and conventional side. His booming laugh and sweet vocals is like a song of joy to my soul. It seemed like we were kindred spirits from another time joining together again."
After two years, they decided to move in together, purchasing a home together in Roselle Park. "In my last few years of serving as mayor of Roselle Park, Thos became my proverbial 'First Dude,'" Joe joked. He and Thos shared their experience - including a focus on Joe's "coming out" process - earlier this year with The New York Times. Watch video from the piece:
They made it official, of course, with the Times Square proposal and their amazing wedding in front of 200 family members and friends in New York.
As Christians, Joe and Thos already know that their love is respected by their faith - and it was important to them to be married in their church. "Our marriage is based in our faith in God and on our love for each other,” Thos explained.
They celebrated afterward alongside all of their guests in their backyard, with food cooked by Joe’s mother and seven hours of dancing, celebrating, and watching as two families became one.
Now that they are legally married, Joe and Thos find it frustrating that their state - the state where Joe grew up, led a town for 16 years, and now still serves as the Borough Administrator and Chief Financial Officer for a shore community of a NJ town - does not respect their marriage.
"It's demeaning and ridiculous to be married in one state, then cross a bridge or tunnel to be demoted to civil union status, then cross into Pennsylvania to enjoy our weekend home in the Poconos and be nothing more than two individuals with no protections or rights as a couple," Thos said, adding, "We own a home, pay taxes, volunteer and are an integral part of our home community in NJ, and to be classified as something less than a legal marriage belittles us and leaves us feeling like second class citizens."
But they know that so many couples like them are already doing the work of marriage in New Jersey - and that they all need the freedom to marry. Together, Thos and Joe are speaking out about why marriage matters in hopes of more fully fulfilling Joe's New Year's Resolution for 2013: To be not only married, but to have their marriage respected where they live.
(Wedding Photos by Dustin Cantrell Photography)