It was a small wedding. Bill and Doug arrived together for the ceremony, as for the past 50 years they had arrived together for everything. Each wore a braided gold band as a symbol of commitment. They were not dressed traditionally for such an occasion, but since it was theirs to celebrate, what they wore didn’t matter. They had only three witnesses: a minister, the minister’s daughter and a friend who would be taking photos. Bill was the best thing that ever happened to Doug, and vice versa. They stood and faced each other in front of a fake fireplace in Niagara Falls, Ontario, last July, in a brick chapel with a white awning painted with two blue hearts, one of the few places in the world where they were allowed to do what they were going to do; they held each other’s hand, looked into each other’s eyes, and said I do.
Photograph by Jonathan Hollada
The wedding was about love, mostly. They were old now, and gray as seashells, and love was one of the only things of which they could be certain. Doug was 77, and his weak heart fluttered in the cage of his ailing chest. He had lost one of his hearing aids and the other was broken, and sometimes when Bill would call at him and call at him he would not hear; due to high blood pressure and physical strain from the bad heart his breath seemed to force its way out of his lungs. He loved to tend the yard, but could no longer do so. Bill, 73, had an arthritic left knee; he had stopped playing his beloved organ at church. They both had problems remembering things. They had begun to make arrangements to move into a retirement home, and had learned they would not be able to live in the same room together. They were fighting the decision. The wedding, when it happened, would be about something else, as well—a kind of validation for those who had championed their cause. Bill and Doug shared their lives and their furniture and their CD collection and their love of art and a little gray house that was webbed by the long shadows of north Georgia pines in a suburb of Atlanta, and marriage in theory was not something they would ever need and they were quite certain that if they took the vows they would not be saying anything to each other that had not already been said before.
Wake up, my handsome man, Bill says to Doug on most mornings, looking across the bed to his companion.
Good morning—but I am not handsome, Doug replies.
Bill fetches him coffee: To me, you are, he says.
When they were younger, in the sixties and seventies, two Atlanta men a good twenty years from coming out as a gay couple, they masked their affections by living platonically, out of fear, and the above conversation is one they did not often share.