The potential of a reversal of the repeal of DADT horrified Stephen. For too many years of him service in the military he was forced to hide who he was: hide under an escalator to say goodbye to his now husband Joshua before his deployment; hide pictures of the couple in his house when other soldiers would visit; refer to Joshua as his brother during military ceremonies; and use predominately texting to communicate while apart with code words for “I love you.” The possibility that the rug could be pulled from underneath him and many other LGBTQ members of the military, left Stephen feeling betrayed. So, he risked his career and put everything out there to ask the question, while stationed in Iraq. Stephen explains,
“I wanted to call the candidates on it, and have them answer candidly in front of the American people . . . because this is real life. Up until then they only made statements in interviews, but not in actual debates.”
In asking the question live, only two days after the repeal of DADT went into effect, Stephen came out to the military, and the nation.
The question received boos from the audience, which was shocking. Stephen says, “My initial reaction was, ‘did I do something wrong’?” (Joshua, watching back in Columbus, admits he didn’t hear the initial boos over his own reaction upon seeing Stephen’s question aired – he was jumping up and down and screaming.) To make things worse,
Immediately, the exchange went viral - the couple discovered if they Googled “gay” that the debate story was the first hit! It was never Stephen’s intent to make it about him, but, now that he was out, the couple decided to continue sharing their story and throw themselves into the fight.
Stephen and Joshua are from Ohio, and met in Columbus at a chance meeting at a karaoke bar. Mutual friends had encouraged them to meet for a long time, but it never quite happened – and coincidentally they hit it off that evening, eventually discovering they had been meant to meet all along. A spontaneous trip to Chicago to help Joshua’s friend move forced them in a car together for 6 hours. Upon returning to Columbus, which they both admit they initially dreaded. The car ride ended up allowing them to truly get to know one another very well. They bonded over their mutual love for arcade games and computers, as Joshua put it, “Our inner nerds were searching for each other!” The ride went by in no time at all.
Their relationship was tested several months in when Stephen found out he would be deployed to Iraq for one year. They exchanged rings, promising each other: “If we can get through this, we’ll get married.” In December 2010, Stephen was deployed to Iraq. During that time, communication was discreet because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was still in effect.
Six months later, Stephen was back home on leave. It had been a tough six months, but the experience had strengthened them. Halfway through the weekend visit, they began discussing plans to get married when Stephen’s deployment was over. Upon further discussion, they agreed that since marriage was not legal for them in Ohio, there was nothing stopping them from getting married that very weekend! And so, Stephen and Joshua took a spontaneous trip to Washington DC and were legally married by officiant Tiffany Newman. She helped choose the symbolic site for the ceremony: the grave of the first soldier to fight the government for being discharged for being gay. “It was a great beginning for us,” says Stephen.
The couple has decided to delay an Ohio wedding celebration until it is legal here.
That fall came the repeal of DADT, and Stephen’s now famous question. While it did throw them into the current fight against DOMA, for same-sex marriage, and for spousal benefits, Joshua’s activism started years prior during the 2004 anti-gay marriage bans. Since the debate their activism evolved as more and more people wanted to know their story and thus MarriageEvolved was born. As Joshua explained, “I wanted to make people realize they can take marriage out of Ohio.” –. This year the organization makes Joshua’s dream a reality by introducing the CBus of Love, which will take 25 couples to Washington DC to be married on the steps of the Supreme Court by Tiffany Newman. The newlyweds will have a honeymoon celebration back in Columbus as part of the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival.
As leaders in the fight for marriage equality in Ohio, Joshua and Stephen will served as the grand marshals of the Pride parade.