Not many couples spend their honeymoon getting married. But for Traverse City residents Rob Stow and Jeremy Evans, they were doing just that when they took a train from New York City to a courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut.
In August of 2009, the two gay men arrived and filled out the application that would legally bind them as a married couple, and handed it to the county clerk employee wearing a baseball cap.
“It was very mundane for her,” Stow chuckled. “It was so nonchalant.”
He recalled the moment she took them to the lobby and asked where they would like to do the legal ceremony. Using an east coast accent with a slight roughness to it, he recalled her delivery:
“‘Where would you like to go, in this corner? Or the balcony?’” In less than 25 minutes, Stow and Evans were legally married – at least in Connecticut, the District of Columbia and eight other U.S. states.
THE MOST SPECIAL DAY
For 32-year-old Stow and 41-year-old Evans, that day was merely paperwork.
“We wanted a legal document saying we were married,” Stow explained.
Their real wedding took place just days earlier, on August 22, at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City, a place that served as a catalyst for their introduction.
The personalized ceremony included a 12-person choir of family and friends. Evans’ sister officiated while family members shared their stories of marriage, including their parents and a couple who has been married over 50 years.
The reception, which was held in Evans’ parent’s barn in Leelanau County, housed over 300 guests who ate, drank and danced under a chandelier until one in the morning.
“We spent a lot of that summer fixing up the barn, putting up lights, hanging a chandelier and building a stage. We have some family and friends who are part of a band that does weddings and other gigs,” said Stow. “I think Jeremy and I went home before the party even ended.”
The couple prepared most of the food, themselves, and hired people to serve.
“We had a really big party and it was great to have all our friends and family there,” Stow said, adding they took a big photo of everyone present to remember the day.
ANY OTHER LOVE STORY
Stow and Evans, both high school teachers who share a love for theater and music, met in 2004 after a performance at the Old Town Playhouse. Evans’ friend, who was in the play with Stow, introduced the two at a party.
They hit it off immediately; but they didn’t officially date until 2006 when Evans called on Stow to help work with some of his students for the Traverse City Central production of “The Sound of Music.”
After rehearsal, the high school theater & choir teachers sat down and discussed their relationship.
Two years later, Stow proposed. “We went to dinner at Stella’s,” he recalled. “We have a friend who works there and she set us up with a table and a bottle of champagne. Jeremy kind of thought something was up.”
After dinner, they went for a walk at the end of the peninsula where Stow presented a box that lit up a ring when he opened it.
“It was from Miner’s North,” Stow explained of the light-up box. “I don’t know if that’s standard or if they knew my plans.”
CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
While wedding stories like Stow and Evans are not commonplace, they are steadily increasing as the nation moves in a forward-approving direction of gay marriage.
In the national and state-specific polls, voter opinion has shifted significantly over the past decade, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 57% to 35%. In 2012, those numbers shifted significantly to 44% opposed, 48% in favor.
However, it doesn’t go without saying there is still resistance in the matter – particularly when it comes to the religious implications of marriage.
“We both believe in the Christian faith but the churches we’ve attended since we were kids don’t necessarily support our decision (to marry),” said Stow. “We did ask Jeremy’s church to marry us. That was a big to-do. We still have ill feelings with how the church reacted. We really don’t attend anymore.”
On the legal front, Stow and Evans live in a state where not only is same sex marriage prohibited (as passed by the Marriage Protection Act of 1996) but samesex civil unions are illegal according to the state constitution, meaning couples cannot declare any sort of domestic partnership benefits.
“Both of us are public school employees (at separate districts) with state benefits, which allows employees to sign their spouses up for benefits. We can’t, even though it would save the state money,” Stow explained. “The cost for the pair of us would be lower than as singles.”
Stow said they worry about such things as their pensions and estate planning.
“Even in a will, there could be challenges by disgruntled family members. Our pensions couldn’t be transferred in the event one of us dies,” he said. “It’s frustrating when I see other same sex couples experiencing these same challenges.”
THE NUANCES OF MARRIAGE
Stow said they have considered moving to a state that recognizes same sex marriage but for now they are holding out.
“It’s not a great idea simply because our families are so close and we would miss seeing our friends, nieces, nephews,
brothers, sisters and parents,” he explained. “We’re still holding out that federally something will change in the next five to ten years. With the Supreme Court hearings on same sex marriage in the next few months, it could change the game.”
Because Michigan does not recognize Stow and Evans as a married couple, they cannot legally adopt a child. However, being a gay couple hasn’t closed the door completely.
“The state doesn’t seem to be super upset about that when it comes to foster parents,” Stow said. “We know several same sex foster parents.”
The couple is currently fostering three children.
“That’s been a long, drawn out process, some of which I can’t really talk about but we’re having a great time. The kids are fabulous,” Stow said.
With complete support from their families and employers, Stow and Evans are helping the children grow in a loving environment – a common hope of any married couple.
“We are having a great time being married. It’s awesome. Even though there are some people who may not call it a marriage, it still feels very legitimate to us,” Stow said, adding they still go through the same struggles heterosexual couples experience such as house management and financial issues.
“There have been a lot of people who said that our relationship has changed their minds on same sex marriage and how they feel about it,” he continued. “The more people who know LGBT friends and family and same sex couples, (marriage) becomes less defined as ‘man and woman.’ Instead, it’s more about the love between two people.”