For many reasons, June 28 is an unforgettable date for Larry Benjamin and Stanley Willauer Jr.
It was the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the 17th anniversary of their original commitment ceremony — and now it is the date of Benjamin and Willauer’s official marriage.
The couple was already planning to get married in a different state on that day, but with Judge John Jones’s historic ruling May 20 that brought marriage equality to Pennsylvania, they were able to get married in Philadelphia, where they live.
Benjamin, 54, is a Bronx-born gay romance author, recently nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for his novel “Unbroken.” He studied at the University of Pennsylvania, and said he fell in love with the diversity of Philadelphia.
Willauer, 54, grew up in a small town outside of Easton, and he works in sales and interior design.
Years prior to marrying, Benjamin and Willauer’s relationship started off on an interesting note.
Benjamin explained the circumstances in which he met his husband.
“When I moved back to Philadelphia in 1988, I took a part-time job delivering the Wall Street Journal. I was delivering at a high-rise condo where Stanley happened to be the concierge,” he said. “I went to use the main elevator, and he started yelling at me, saying I wasn’t allowed to use that one, that I needed to use the elevator for deliveries. The whole time I was thinking, He’s one of the most handsome men I have ever met.”
It took them five years to finally have their first date — and it was good timing for Benjamin.
“I was dating lunatics and losers,” he joked. “I kept thinking, Why can’t I date a guy like Stanley? Eventually he invited me to a barbeque at his house.”
As the two spent more and more time together, it became clear that they were building the foundation of a solid relationship. Seventeen years ago, Benjamin and Willauer decided to have a commitment ceremony.
“We found rings at Tiffany’s and we were like, Now what?” Benjamin said. “I didn’t want him to hand me the rings across the counter and say we’re married. So we did a ceremony at our house with a couple-dozen friends.”
Their official wedding this past June 28, however, was even smaller. Benjamin and Willauer invited six of their close friends and supporters to witness their wedding.
“We had no family present; the six people who were there were the six people who kept saying, ‘When are you going to get married?’” Benjamin said. “Something we know is that blood doesn’t make family. Family is made by the people who love and support you, and those six people are our Philadelphia family.”
The wedding took place at the Philadelphia Wedding Chapel. The chapel is located in East Falls. where the couple lives. Benjamin and Willauer said it was important to have their wedding take place in the community in which they have lived for 15 years. Thus the flowers for the ceremony came from Falls Flowers, and after the ceremony, the couple and their friends had dinner at In Riva.
Benjamin and Willauer walked into the ceremony to Sam Smith’s song “Stay With Me,” and said they were especially taken by the lyrics, “Stay with me, you’re all I need.”
Both Benjamin and Willauer talked about the acceptance and love they experienced on their wedding day, and how memorable that made it for the couple.
“Having grown up the way I did, in a small, rural Pennsylvania town, what made the wedding so special was how everyone was so accepting and congratulatory,” Willauer said. “From the moment we walked in, I didn’t feel out of place at all. I felt normal.”
Benjamin echoed his husband’s sentiment.
“Nobody made us feel different or strange. We felt like we belonged. To me, that is true equality.”