PGN publisher Mark Segal and partner Jason Villemez picked up their marriage license the afternoon Pennsylvania legalized same-sex marriage, as Philadelphia City Hall was teeming with reporters, video cameras and well-wishers.
And, last weekend, they officially married, in a setting much different than the frenzy of that historic day.
On July 5, Segal and Villemez, together for 10 years, were married before about 30 family and friends in a ceremony officiated by the Hon. Judge Dan Anders, Philadelphia’s first openly gay judge.
The ceremony was held in the private dining room at The Prime Rib in Center City. The wedding party included Segal’s nephew, Jeffrey Segal, and Villemez’s sisters, Lillian Freeman and Ryan Christie.
Villemez, 29, is an associate producer at Comcast, while Segal, 63, is PGN’s founder and publisher.
Segal is a native of Philadelphia, while Villemez hails from Central Maryland and moved to the city in 2006, two years after the couple started dating.
“Mark and I met while I was in college, through a mutual friend who suggested, quite serendipitously, that I get in contact with him,” Villemez said. “He thought that we’d get along well, and turns out that after 10 years, our friend was right.”
They corresponded for about a year via phone and email before actually meeting.
Segal joked that his first impression of Villemez upon meeting him was that “he’s too young,” but Villemez said the connection and the courtship were natural.
“I knew he was sweet, thoughtful and genuine,” he said. “He sung one of my favorite songs to me as I came up the steps of 30th Street Station; he’d printed out the lyrics and had them in his hand to make sure he got them right. Doing that took courage, which Mark possesses in spades, in all aspects of his life.”
While their actual age difference was never a problem — they joked in their wedding vows that they both consider themselves 42, the middle ground of their ages — that they were at different junctures in their lives has been challenging at times.
“Building a career while dating someone whose professional life was already shaped was, and still is, a great challenge for me and for us,” Villemez said.
For instance, Villemez spent time in Japan teaching English, as well as working in Washington, D.C.
“But we made the mutual decision to stick through it, and we developed routines that reminded us that, despite being physically apart, we were both still together,” Villemez said. “When I was in Japan, I’d call him during my morning right before leaving for work, as he was getting ready for bed. I also sent him as much tchotchke as I could and postcards galore. You could probably build a paper house from all the postcards I sent.”
Segal added that the couple approaches life in very different ways — but that also helps them to complement one another.
For instance, Villemez said, Segal has helped show him his own innate humor.
“The fact that he laughs at my jokes or, more appropriately, laughs at me laughing at my own jokes, helped me realize that the number-one thing I look for in a friend and partner is someone who can withstand the absurdity,” Villemez said.
Likewise, Segal said that, when he starts getting wrapped up in a project, Villemez keeps him grounded but motivated.
“He encourages me to dream, and when working towards those dreams, no matter how difficult, he’s always there in my corner, lending a shoulder or offering suggestions,” Segal said.
They began discussing marriage, though not seriously, after about seven or eight years together, Villemez said.
“We’d joke about it in passing, thinking that we still had a while before we had to truly make that decision,” he said.
But that changed May 20, when Judge John E. Jones handed down his historic ruling making marriage equality a reality in Pennsylvania, effective that afternoon. The couple didn’t plan on getting a license that soon but, in the cab ride over to the City Hall celebration, Villemez said they “both thought that we owed it to ourselves, and that we deserved to celebrate and show our love as much as any other couple. I think it was at that moment in the cab that it truly became a reality, because we’d finally come to the realization that we were worthy of it.”
Their decision almost was hampered by a forgotten wallet — but Councilman Jim Kenney and Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci lent the pair the requisite $80 license fee.
They had 60 days to complete and file the license, and spent the ensuing weeks planning the wedding, which they kept under wraps from everyone but the invitees. The guests surrounded the couple as they exchanged their vows, which were peppered with both laughs and tears. And, after Anders pronounced them spouses, the couple stomped on a glass in the Jewish tradition as the guests proclaimed, “Mazel tov!”
They signed their license after the ceremony, which was followed by dinner, a toast from Segal’s nephew and a messy cupcake-sharing by the newlyweds.
While the tone of the event was celebratory, Segal said the weight of the actual legal marriage has begun dawning on them.
“Suprisingly so,” said Segal about how different it feels to be married. “I never thought that it would. I just thought it was a piece of paper, but knowing that the state recognizing our relationship as they do any other is very empowering — and overwhelmingly emotional.”
While the short timeframe from May 20-July 5 was stress-inducing, Villemez said being able to share their love and commitment before all of their family and friends was well worth the work.
“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” he said.