Happily Ever After
A Gay Couple Recalls the Day They Were Married
It all began in Paris—what better place to meet the person you will eventually marry?
Todd Johnson and Michael Lahart were at a dinner party in Paris given by a mutual friend. Johnson had been traveling; Lahart had been living in Paris and spoke fluent French.
“I spoke very little French,” recalls Johnson, “I could say certain things but I couldn’t carry on a conversation with ten people around a dinner table. Michael thought I was totally uninterested because I didn’t say a word. But that’s because I couldn’t!”
However, they managed to reconnect in New York and began a relationship that eventually led to marriage. The couple bought a house in Norfolk and when gay marriages became legal in Connecticut, they called their local Justice of the Peace. By this time the couple had been together 16 years.
“It was fairly cut and dried,” says Lahart. “It was like having a document notarized. She asked if I wanted to marry Todd and asked the same question of him. We both answered ‘yes’ and that was it. We were married.”
Although they were now legally united, Johnson and Lahart knew they wanted to have a special celebration for family and friends to mark the momentous occasion.
“We got married in the Episcopal church in Norfolk,” says Johnson. “The priest who married us was a fraternity brother of mine. Since he was not from the diocese of Connecticut and the church in the town was a summer chapel and there was no priest, the Bishop in Hartford had to approve everything. It was a bit of a process and it made me think how there is so much protocol around love and not around hate.
“We had to write so many versions of the service and have it approved by the archdiocese in Hartford.
Plus, we had to send a letter to the Bishop requesting that my friend Rodney be the priest to marry a same-sex couple in a church that did not have its own priest and had never had a same-sex marriage performed there. The spiritual aspect of our marriage was extremely important to us, so we plowed ahead.”
Johnson continues, “I really had a moment before any of this happened. I thought we have been together for all these years, what would this really change? As we went on, I realized as gay men of our age, if we don’t do this, what were we saying about how important marriage is? I didn’t take it on as a cause but we both knew how significant it would be—we finally had the right to marry. We believe that it was more than a joining of lives, but one of hearts and souls.”
The wedding took place in September 2011. The reception was held at the Doolittle Lake Club in Norfolk, a private club for residents who live on the lake. Lahart and Johnson were able to use the facilities thanks to a friend who is a member.
“We made a decision to limit the reception to 50 people, which fit the room comfortably,” says Lahart. “Unless both of us knew the person or couple, they weren’t invited.”
Even though the weather was chilly, people were able to have cocktails outside and enjoy the lake views. Inside, round tables had been set up to accommodate guests and all the accouterments were in place.
The legal and religious aspects of the event took up much of the couple’s time and they hadn’t even begun to put in place the details for the reception.
“Because we had no idea how to put together a wedding reception, Michael and I would truly have been in panic mode,” says Johnson, “were it not for our secret weapon and savior—Ron Leal. He stepped in and took over, found the caterer, the flowers, the tablecloths and everything we needed, while we just watched in amazement. He even had a say in what we wore!” (Both men chose to wear the same outfit: navy blazers with white pocket squares, khaki pants, white bucks, pal blue shirts, and orange Hermès ties.)
Leal, who is a friend of the couple and who has many orchestrated functions for the Litchfield Community Center, among others, has a Rolodex of services and pulled out all the stops.
“It started with the rental furniture,” says Johnson. “Ron took us to Party Rentals, which had an outlet in New Preston at the time. He chose everything we needed from tablecloths to napkins to silverware and dishes.
Because it was September, he created centerpieces of blue hydrangeas in plain containers surrounded by a cluster of pebbles. The napkins were beige linen, tied with a ribbon to match the flowers, and the tablecloths were white. He took care of every detail; down to re-ironing the chair back ties because he did not like the way they looked. Truly amazing.”
It was a momentous occasion in many ways for the two men. Although they had been together for so many years, the wedding was the first time their parents had met each other. The day took on a greater meaning than they had thought.
“Michael’s mother came up to me that day and said ‘Now I have another son.’ It meant so much to have them all there for, sadly, Michael’s parents and my father all died in the same year,” says Johnson.
The champagne flowed, speeches were made, and the affection for these two men permeated the room.
“It’s one of the only times in your life you have that mix of all the people in your life together. Seeing those faces and feeling the love from all over. Michael and I will never forget that.”
In 2012 Johnson and Lahart went to India and started the process of having a child. The following year, just a few days before their wedding anniversary, their daughter, Audrey, was born. The circle is now complete.
When asked what advice they would give a gay couple getting married today, they replied in unison: Just ask Ron.