Following the appointment of conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Jason Melcher and Johnnie Wonders worried that their right to marry as a gay couple could be revoked. An historic election day that could further impact their fate was just around the corner, so the pair rushed to the altar, planning their special event in just under two days.
The couple lives in the swing state of Pennsylvania in an area that Jason refers to as Trump territory. Multiple neighbors flaunt yard signs that promote the incumbent, and even larger, more prominent displays can be seen a few miles down the road. Johnnie says, “I wish they could realize how their unwavering faith in this president affects us,” adding that Trump’s bigotry and problematic perspectives impact the lives and mental health of marginalized people in ways that his supporters don’t seem to understand.
Johnnie says, “We might do things they wouldn’t do with their own lives, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not like them when it comes to our relationships and how we love one another.” Jason explains that one reason to get married so quickly was to guarantee protections the couple could otherwise be denied. He cites the importance of hospital visitation, sharing health insurance, the right to make decisions for each other in an emergency, and other rights that could be important during a pandemic.
He adds, “It’s literally just a piece of paper but it means so much more in the political sense. It’s a giant middle finger to the current president and Amy Coney Barrett or anyone else who isn’t sure we should be married.”
It was difficult to find time for the ceremony because both men are working two jobs, but they ultimately invited guests to a late-night affair in the early hours of Halloween. The wedding day was also a work day for Jason, who went straight from his full-time job at a local, queer-centered nonprofit to an evening shift at McDonald’s. Jason didn’t return home until after midnight, leaving just enough time to shower and change clothes before walking down the stairs of the couple’s home with his groom at 1 a.m.
The pair was joined in person by Jason’s parents and twin as well as two of their close friends in addition to Jason’s older brother who connected via live-stream. They gathered in front of their fireplace mantle which Johnnie decorated with sparkling lights and festive garlands hours before the event. A Progress Pride flag hung on a nearby wall in the living room as they exchanged vows in matching Renaissance garb.
Both men wore black harem pants and matching boots paired with similarly styled vests that had pointed shoulders and chain details. A gold collar, lapel and cuffs accented Jason’s burgundy, leather vest, which he paired with a black, long-sleeved v-neck. Wonders donned similar attire, but his vest was black with purple embellishments, and he carried a decorative knife. Guests dressed in the theme with outfits they’d typically sport at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
Their original wedding date was scheduled for a Renaissance Faire weekend, an event both men feel deeply connected to after growing up visiting the destination and eventually developing a strong community there. Jason isn’t too disappointed that his original wedding plans didn’t come to fruition because the pair hopes to renew their vows in a ceremony that will match his dreams. The new date of October 31 is significant for Johnnie who is Wiccan, and the couple incorporated a Pagan handfasting ritual into the ceremony. The couple didn’t exchange rings, but they tied a braided embroidery thread into a knot around their shared clasp to signify their union.
At 6-foot-6, Jason was the tallest person present—standing just inches below the ceiling and 14 inches higher than Johnnie who is only 5-foot-4. “Every aspect of our relationship is opposites attract,” Jason says as he begins to list their differences. He describes himself as a lap dog who needs a lot of cuddling and Johnnie as someone who prefers more space. He notes that they approach finances and the perceptions of the world from a different lens because of the ways they grew up. Johnnie, 43, was raised by his grandfather in rural Pennsylvania, going to high school across the parking lot from a cow field, and developing his sense of self in a space where being gay isn’t always affirmed. In contrast, Jason, 26, grew up in suburbs that border Philadelphia, immersed in a younger generation of queer people and is around those who embody more diverse aspects of identity, such as nonbinary and agender descriptors.
Johnnie is a homebody whereas Jason likes to go out—but Jason notes, “He gives me a valid reason to stay home and relax—to spend time with him rather than go, go, go. I do the opposite for him, so we offer balance to each other—where he reminds me to rest and I remind him to live a little more.” Johnnie underlines that each of their differences is a positive attribute in their relationship that helps them grow and feel grounded together.
The pair met four years ago at a leather and fetish event and proudly embraces a dominant-submissive dynamic, but most people make the wrong assumptions about who’s who. Johnnie explains, “Everyone thinks Jason is the more dominant one because he’s so much bigger, but we defy stereotypes.” Johnnie says that he’s learned there just isn’t a specific concept for norms regarding relationships anymore. He underlined, “And in that way, our relationship is no different than anyone else’s.”
Johnnie mailed his ballot the day of their wedding and both men are trying to practice self-care, enjoy virtual time with friends, and pour themselves into work while awaiting results—which experts say might take until Friday to finalize in Pennsylvania. When explaining how he hopes those in leadership will view queer and marginalized people over the next four years, Johnnie says, “I want the world to realize that there’s only one thing that should matter. It’s just love. Plain and simple. Just love.”
Photo credit: Lorena Melcher