Donald Miller-Cao and Pedro Cao have been married twice in 25 years, both times to each other.
Living on the cusp of marriage equality, Donald and Pedro confronted a question familiar to many established same-sex couples: once marriage equality became reality in 2015, should they marry again? The answer they landed on was a small, legally binding marriage in New Jersey, the state where they met and spent most of their married life before moving to Marietta a few months after the landmark Supreme Court ruling giving them equal rights.
Having originally exchanged rings in 1995, there wasn’t exactly a roadmap to follow in 2015. It wasn’t technically a vow renewal, and strictly speaking it wasn’t a second marriage, since their first wasn’t legally binding, but two things pushed them forward.
“Basically, there were two reasons,” Pedro said. “We had been together for 25 years, and we love each other. The second reason is more pragmatic, to make sure we have equal representation under the law.”
They split up the work in an amicable way. Pedro handled what he wanted and Donald, well, did the things Pedro didn’t want to.
“Pedro wanted to be in charge of the food, music and the tuxedos, and I did everything else. I had to take care of the cake, the venue and everything else,” Donald said, noting that one of the most frustrating things was finding a venue for a fall wedding that fell in their price range. “I kept flying to New Jersey and looking at traditional venues. For the time of year, they still wanted $109 per head with a minimum of 100 people, and that just wasn’t what we wanted.”
After several trips, Donald landed on The Frog and The Peach restaurant in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That venue served as their wedding and reception area, and allowed for their desired 50-guest party.
“It was one of my favorite places when I lived in New Jersey, it was convenient for our friends and family, and so it was just perfect,” Donald said.
For Pedro’s part, he decided to rent tuxedos, and wanted the cake to represent both of their cultures. Donald is American, and Pedro emigrated from Cuba in 1973.
“We wanted to have flavors for the Americans and flavor for the Latinos,” Pedro said, noting that they went with a layered cake with chocolate and raspberry mousse, and coco loco cake.
Their baker surprised them with sugar replicas of themselves holding American and Cuban flags, respectively.
The couple wanted a simple ceremony, but they also benefited from a cost perspective by being men. There was no dress to buy, they eschewed hair and makeup stylists and asked their friends to take pictures instead of hiring a wedding photographer. They also pushed back their honeymoon almost a year so that they could build up vacation time.
Although there were legal and pragmatic reasons for the wedding, there have also been unexpected emotional repercussions as well.
“We’ve been together for so long that our daily life hasn’t changed very much actually,” Pedro said. “But for me, it changed emotionally because once you stand in front of a public body and proclaim your love for someone, it does change you.”