The couple wed last weekend in the Center City chambers of The Hon. Ann Butchart.
Burns, 58, is the executive director of ActionAIDS and a native of Pottsville, while Rayner, 59, is a US Airways flight attendant and Navy veteran who grew up throughout Maryland and Virginia and moved to the Philadelphia area in 1998. The couple now lives in Media.
They met in 2002 through an online dating site.
Burns signed up for the service when he was ready to start dating again after the passing of his partner of 23 years and was matched with Rayner — although technology almost interfered with their meeting.
“It’s a funny story. I had signed up to start dating again and Jamie’s profile kept coming up and I just kept deleting it and then it would pop up again. And I was just like, Oh, you know what, I’ll just send him an email,” Burns said. “But there was some sort of IT glitch and he was apparently responding and I wasn’t getting them for weeks. Then all of a sudden there was this flood of emails from him.”
They made plans for a first date — dinner at Philadelphia’s former Astral Plane on June 7, 2002.
“It was a wonderful dinner, and that was the beginning of everything,” Burns said.
Rayner was living in Brookhaven at the time and Burns in Philadelphia, but in September 2003 they bought their home in Media.
Over the years, Rayner said he and Burns learned to unite both their similarities and differences.
“Kevin’s a real A-type personality — I’m very proud of all the work he does and he’s very humble and doesn’t take a lot of credit for it, which aggravates me — and I’m a real B-type; we joke that if I got any more laidback, I’d be in a coma,” Rayner laughed. “He’s obsessive and I’m oblivious. We couldn’t be more different in many respects but in the important areas we’re very similar. And that’s what really feeds and keeps our relationship going strong.”
Burns agreed, noting that they both have been willing to confront obstacles.
“It’s about having the base commitment of love and respect and then being willing to do the work to work through all the issues that come up in order to increase that intimacy and help your relationship to grow,” he said.
On June 7, 2009, the couple celebrated their relationship with family and friends in a ceremony at their home, officiated by Dignity Philadelphia’s the Rev. Ron Hoskins, in tribute to Burns’ Catholic faith. They also had a Quaker wedding certificate, which, following Quaker tradition, was signed by all of their guests.
Prior to the ceremony, a news crew from the local CBS affiliate stopped by for an impromptu interview for a story the station was running in conjunction with the effort at that time to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution.
“The interviewer asked me, ‘Why now?’ and my response was that I was 54, when was the right time?” Rayner said.
Even though the union carried no legal weight at that time, Burns said the incorporation of their loved ones into the service made it just as meaningful.
“We could have gone out of state to do it but we wanted to do something where we live, in the community we’d chosen to invest in, with all of our friends and family,” Burns said. “From that day on, we considered ourselves married.”
After the fall of the federal ban on same-sex marriage, the couple had been considering marrying out of state sometime soon for practical purposes — a plan that was fast-tracked after last month’s ruling that brought marriage equality to Pennsylvania.
“We talked about going to New York or Delaware and doing it on June 7, our anniversary. And when it happened here May 20, it was like, ‘Holy schmoly, let’s scramble,’” Rayner said.
“I was really shocked,” Burns added about the ruling. “All of a sudden it was this realization that, Wow, we can get married. Then to hear the next day that the governor wasn’t going to appeal was even more of a surprise. It was a little bit surreal and very joyous. It felt like we were finally on equal footing and were full citizens with the right to get married and have our unions recognized.”
The couple applied for a license at the courthouse in Media and asked Butchart, the city’s first openly lesbian judge, to officiate, which they said she was happy to do, even on her Saturday off to keep their anniversary date.
The couple said they didn’t want much fanfare, since they had already held their 2009 ceremony and reception, but commemorated the occasion with small gestures like purchasing matching ties from Tie the Knot, a nonprofit started by actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband to raise funds for LGBT-equality efforts.
Rayner’s niece and Burns’ niece both witnessed the ceremony, held in Butchart’s chambers, as did Hoskins.
“We kept it very simple,” Burns said. “Judge Butchart read really lovely vows that we repeated to each other. And I was crying like a fool, over everything.”
“But it was the best kind of tears,” added Rayner. “The most incredibly happy, moving tears.”