It's no secret that a couple's wedding day often requires months of brainstorming, planning, and decision-making. But even if they struggled to choose the perfect wedding suits and agree on the food items for the reception menu, at least one decision was simple for Robert Wallak and Aaron Testa, who tied the knot in New York City on June 8, 2013: In lieu of wedding favors for their guests, they would contribute to Freedom to Marry and invite their friends and family members to do the same.
"We wanted to be sure that part of our wedding could benefit our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters across the United States to help them gain the legal right to be married - and for their marriages to be recognized under federal law," Robert said in a speech to kick off their reception.
Earlier in the day, Robert and Aaron married in a beautiful ceremony at Manhattan's Church of the Transfiguration. "Faith is a big part of our lives, so we wanted it to play a major role in our marriage," Robert said, explaining the details of the official Episcopalian ceremony. "It exemplified the emotion and strong love that we share - and, as many of our guests told us later - that was really felt throughout the church."
It was a big day for Robert and Aaron - "pure magic," they explained - a day that celebrated their six years of love and commitment as a couple. They met in 2007, a year after Aaron moved to Manhattan from Philadelphia, and as Robert tells it, "were pretty smitten with each other when we first met." Months later, they told each other that they were in love on the same day. "It was a momentous day for both of us," Robert said. "It really speaks to the adage that love comes when you least expect it - or even when you don't necessary need or want it."
Robert and Aaron married just a few weeks before the United States Supreme Court announced its rulings in two landmark marriage cases, restoring the freedom to marry in California and striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied legally married same-sex couples the federal protections of marriage. In his speech to all of his friends and family members at his reception, hosted at the Glasshouses at the Chelsea Arts Center, Robert explained why it was so important for the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA.
"When I spoke about the importance of marriage equality at our wedding reception, I used the Hudson River, which was through the windows behind me as I spoke, as a visual boundary to illustrate how 'far' our marriage was legal. Once we crossed that river, Aaron and I were no longer married." That's because in New Jersey, just minutes from New York City, same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry, and DOMA ensured that their marriage would not be respected federally either. "I think that river really put things in perspective for our guests," Robert said. "I honestly think many of them were horrified by the reality of it."
Of course, the core of DOMA has been struck down, and now, work is underway to fully repeal the discriminatory law so that married couples are married no matter where they live or travel to. Now, married couples like Robert and Aaron are protected in the state where they live and by the federal government, but couples in 37 other states - including New Jersey, just over the Hudson River - continue to be denied the freedom to marry.
Robert and Aaron's wedding - which not only celebrated their love and commitment but also helped to fuel the campaign to win marriage in all 50 states - is a testament to the work we do at Freedom to Marry. It's the happiness of couples like Robert and Aaron that fuels the fight and keeps us on our path toward a national victory. "Marriage does matter," Robert said, adding, "If it doesn't matter to you now - it will when you meet your soulmate. So get involved, get out there, and do something in the spirit of marriage equality. My only regret is that I didn't get involved in the marriage movement earlier."