PAT DWYER and Stephen Mosher bounded out of a beat-up blue van on Tuesday afternoon and set up a white barstool on the sidewalk in front of the United States Supreme Court. It was 25 years to the day since they had become a couple, and several dozen friends and relatives had come to the capital to celebrate. Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Mosher were getting married. Again.
They had said “I do” before, not once, not twice, but six times. The District of Columbia made seven. In a slightly zany, low-budget cross-country adventure, Mr. Dwyer, who at 48 is trying to remake himself as an actor, and Mr. Mosher, 46, an events planner, traveled from their Manhattan home to exchange wedding vows and rings in every state and jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriage — and one, California, that did and now does not.
They eloped to Connecticut, joined by two friends who kept their secret with a “pinky swear.” They then professed their love on a Vermont farm, on a covered bridge in New Hampshire, inside the living room of a Massachusetts home. They stood under a Jewish wedding canopy and stomped on a glass in Iowa. (Neither is Jewish.) They donned brass rings on their middle fingers — a not-too-subtle protest against California’s Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage — in a yoga studio there while the ban was in place. Mr. Dwyer called it an “act of civil disobedience.”
Tuesday was their final wedding, unless perchance same-sex marriage becomes legal someplace else. It was a brief ceremony, one part performance art (a documentary filmmaker is chronicling their journey), one part political statement and one part expression of commitment, conducted under a blazing midday sun against the backdrop of the court’s soaring white columns and the words, “Equal Justice Under Law.”
A friend, seated on the barstool, presided. Women in sundresses and straw hats took pictures; men wiped tears from their eyes. Little children scampered about, handing small plastic bottles of bubbles to the guests. A choked-up Mr. Dwyer pledged to “love this man until I stop breathing on this earth,” while Mr. Mosher declared that they had been making vows for 25 years.
“Every day,” he said, “we woke up and made the choice to stay together and protect one another.”
As with weddings gay and straight, there was a complicated family overlay. Mr. Mosher’s mother, Juana, flew in from Fort Worth to give her son away. His father did not attend; witnessing his son marry another man was, his wife said, a bridge he could not cross. “They settled it,” Mrs. Mosher said, sounding a little sad. “They’re both a little hurt, but they both will survive.”
The path that led Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Mosher to the streets of Washington began in the mid-1980s, when they met studying drama at what is now the University of North Texas.
Both were struggling with their sexuality. Mr. Dwyer was raised in an evangelical Christian home; as a child, he said, “I threw myself into the church to save myself from going to hell.”
Mr. Mosher joked, “I was so far back in the closet I had mothballs in my teeth.”
It was love — or at leastinfatuation — at first sight. “I saw his face, and I was absolutely thunderstruck,” Mr. Dwyer said. Mr. Mosher said he told himself, “You’re not going to find anybody better.”
Over time, they built a life together in Hell’s Kitchen, where their apartment became a hub for good friends and good food.
They have weathered ups and downs — “lies, infidelity, alcoholism and fights,” Mr. Mosher said. They nearly split up over Mr. Mosher’s drinking; he sought help and says he has been sober for 10 years. Sometime around 2008, as the significance of their decades together dawned on them, they began talking about getting married. In 2009, they secretly eloped to Connecticut.
“Earlier in our relationship we didn’t believe in gays marrying, because there was no legal ramification, no rights changed, so we were those gays who said gays shouldn’t live their lives aping heterosexual stereotypes,” Mr. Mosher said. “But as our relationship grew stronger and deeper, we felt more and more we should have the right.”
They thought that surely New York would allow same-sex marriage by the time of their 25th anniversary, April 26, 2011. They set it as a date for a big splashy wedding (even though they were already married). But the New York law never came to pass, and then last year Mr. Dwyer lost his job as an advertising executive. So they called it off.
At a party last fall, some friends suggested a smaller wedding on the cheap. By December Mr. Mosher and Mr. Dwyer were on a wedding road show, with friends licensed to officiate.
Allan Piper, the filmmaker who has been following the couple, said of the ceremonies, “Each one has been a little bit guerilla.” The one constant, he added, “is that they’re all very emotional and heartfelt, and they’re all pretty small.”
As anyone who has ever married knows, planning a wedding is no simple feat. But planning seven ceremonies in seven places had its peculiar challenges, all the more so because of the complex and confusing legal environment that surrounds same-sex marriage.
Lambda Legal, an advocacy group, says Mr. Mosher and Mr. Dwyer are not the first gay couple to wed in multiple jurisdictions. The group advises against it.
“Many times people do this in order to maximize the chance that they’ll obtain respect for their legal relationship,” said Camilla Taylor, who directs the fund’s national Marriage Project. But, she said, the opposite may be true; entering into multiple legal relationships can “suggest that there is some doubt attached to a legal relationship elsewhere.”
If a couple decides to divorce — not an issue, Mr. Mosher and Mr. Dwyer insist — untangling multiple marriages might also prove to be problematic, Ms. Taylor said.
And then there is the matter of the marriage license applications: many states require couples to affirm they have not been married before. Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Mosher, who recognized that the underlying intent was to uncover prior marriages and divorces, said they found a truthful dodge.
“The question is phrased: ‘Is this your first marriage?’ ” Mr. Dwyer said. “The answer is yes, it is our first marriage. It’s not our first wedding.”