Wil and Brandon Cohen were among several couples who took advantage of a day of free wedding ceremonies offered at the center on Memorial Day by Journeys of the Heart, with the support of American Civil Liberties of Pennsylvania and Equality Pennsylvania.
Wil, 34, and Brandon, 37, have been together for nearly 16 years. The Bensalem couple was set up on a blind date by a mutual acquaintance.
“An old high-school friend of mine called me up and told me she had somebody at her place she wanted me to meet and I had to get over right away to meet this guy,” Wil said. “I had recently come out and hadn’t dated a guy before, so I figured I’d give it a shot.”
Brandon said the attraction was instant.
“I thought he was really cute and he had this innocence about him that I just took to,” he said.
Wil added that Brandon’s brother warned him he might need to be the one to pursue a relationship.
“He was very shy,” Wil said. “His brother pointed out to me that, if I wanted a goodnight kiss at the end of the date, I’d have to make the first move because Brandon was terribly shy. But I had no problem obliging.”
The couple became official July 19, 1998.
Wil said that they committed early on to investing the work it takes to make their relationship successful.
“We got into it with the mindset that we’re not going to give up on each other,” Wil said. “We both came from households where our parents are divorced so we came to this knowing that we didn’t want to cut and run; when we have a problem, we tackle it head on and are extremely open and honest with each other.”
“One of the first things he told me when we started going out was that if we wanted to both make this relationship work, it would,” Brandon added. “That stuck with me.”
That early dedication led Wil to propose to Brandon just a month into their relationship; at that time, marriage equality wasn’t legal anywhere in the country, and he said the gesture was more of a symbolic pledge.
But, as state after state began sanctioning same-sex marriage, they began thinking seriously about making it legal.
Two days after Pennsylvania became the 19th state to adopt marriage equality, they applied for a license at City Hall.
“They were very professional,” Brandon said about the staff at the Register of Wills Office. “The guy going through our application warned us not to get insulted because they hadn’t updated the computer system yet for it to say ‘partners’ instead of ‘bride and groom,’ and I told him I didn’t care at all — just as long as we were able to get the license and the legal rights.”
When they heard about Journeys of the Heart’s plan to perform free ceremonies the Monday following the ruling, they decided to take the nondenominational officiant group up on its offer.
“We’re not wealthy people and didn’t exactly have much money for a wedding. But we saw that Journeys of the Heart was going to be officiating free weddings at William Way, and everything fell into place, which was really awesome,” Wil said.
Wil brought his mother and stepfather and Brandon brought his father, sister, brother and sister-in-law.
The couple gave Journeys of the Heart officiant Bob Pileggi background on themselves and their relationship, and he customized their ceremony.
They wrote their own vows, and Brandon said that, while he was initially apprehensive about reciting them, the ceremony went seamlessly.
“I’m not much of a public speaker and was worried about tripping up on my words, but Bob made everything really comfortable and put us at ease,” Brandon said.
Once the knot was tied, the couple said the reality of being legally wed was hard to digest.
“Right after, it was very surreal,” Wil said. “I’d always hoped it would happen but I’m sometimes a pessimist and wasn’t sure it was something that would happen in Pennsylvania in my lifetime. But we’ve been together almost 16 years and now we’re finally married, and he’s my husband. We’re enjoying the moment.”