On Friday, June 24, 2011, Mario Pabón and Jason McAllister were sitting on their couch in the cozy New York City neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, trying hard to properly juggle two conflicting emotions. Earlier that evening, the New York State Senate voted to approve the freedom to marry, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was preparing to sign the historic bill into law.
Mario and Jason were, naturally, thrilled: They had been together for nearly six years - and engaged for over four - and they knew that soon, they wanted to get married. They knew that the vote was a historic step forward for the marriage movement. They knew that thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples would now be able to share in the joys and security that the freedom to marry provides.
And yet, they were nervous - they had been telling their friends that they would get married when they could legally do so in New York, and as they toasted to the wonderful victory, they couldn't help but focus on one key fear: "How in the world are we going to pay for a wedding?"
Nearly a year and a half later, after their ceremony went off without a hitch - and under budget, to boot! - Mario and Jason realized they had nothing to worry about. Their friends and family pulled through, and they celebrated a beautiful wedding by committee. Jason's co-worker baked the wedding cake. A friend played the violin. Mario's cousin sang. Their friends, who had recently formed Merlardo Productions, Ltd, were enlisted as photographers. "Everyone who contributed just gave 110 percent to us," Jason said.
Mario and Jason understood that their wedding day wasn't about the floral arrangements or the seating charts or the dinner menu. Rather, it was a celebration of their seven years of commitment to each other; their wedding date, September 1, 2012, even marked the exact day of their seventh anniversary.
The couple met while studying at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, in the school's theatre arts program. Mario had just started his first year of study as an acting major, Jason was preparing for his final year studying playwriting, and the men had been paired together in the program's tradition of matching up freshmen and seniors. They had an instant connection and have been dating ever since. They stayed together when Jason graduated and moved to New York in May 2007, and even through a six-month period when Mario studied abroad in London without seeing Jason at all.
Jason and Mario have both noticed that their lives have changed since marrying. "Before, people treated us as two people who live together," Jason explained. "And now, people treat us as a married couple. We're officially recognized as being committed to each other in front of everyone we care about."
"For me, marriage has opened deeper levels in our relationship and expanded what we have," Mario added. "It's so much more than just a piece of paper. It's so much more than just a group of people saying, 'Yes, you're married.' It's a legal, spiritual contract with this person you love. It's everything we had hoped for."
Mario and Jason wrote their own vows for the ceremony in September - and here, Mario has shared his vows to Jason with Freedom to Marry.
Seven years ago today, we watched West Side Story, and I made fun of María because when Tony said "I love you," she just said "Yes" (pronounced "Jehs") - by far the worst response to "I love you" ever.
Not even three hours later, when I told you "I love you," you looked deep into my eyes and said "Jehs." I should have known back then I would never be bored being around you.
I grew up in a house where perfect love and perfect trust was what defined the relationship between my parents. They met in high school, and just a few weeks ago, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. I saw such beauty in a relationship like the one my parents had. I thought that there could never be anything like their love.
Then you came into my life and changed everything. You showed me Love. You gave me Love. And seven years later, my heart still leaps when you walk into the room. I understand now that this is what my parents have.
So now, with this ring, I say: Do I promise to care for you, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse?
Do I promise to never abandon you, and keep you with me, in my heart and soul, for this life and as many lives as there might or might not be after this?
Do I promise to keep our love safe from all those who wish us harm? And do I promise to love and give you as much as you have loved and given me?
"Jehs." I do.
Photos by Merlardo Productions Ltd (Anthony J. Merced and Jennifer Gallardo)