Stuart Wilber and John Breitweiser got married today, the first day the state of Washington allowed same-sex couples to enter into the institution of marriage. Stuart and John have been together for 35 years — exactly 35 years. They met December 8, 1977, and so they begin their 36th year together as husbands.
There’s something very special about the institution of marriage. Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but clearly it is for Stuart and John, and they have lived their lives proving that point.
This wedding is especially important and gratifying to us at The New Civil Rights Movement, as Stuart is a beloved writer here. An LGBT activist, Stuart was instrumental last year in getting Seattle’s Space Needle to fly the gay pride flag. He wrote a great piece about it, and we invited him to become a contributing writer. Stuart’s response was that he’d be able to write an occasional piece. Eighteen months, more than three dozen great articles, countless story ideas, and a constant display of selflessness later, Stuart proved his dedication to the LGBT community is far more than “occasional.”
Stuart penned a beautiful and moving wedding announcement, which we’d like to share with you here:
If it wasn’t love at first glance; it was love at first dance – our road to Marriage
Stuart Wilber, a contributor to The New Civil Rights Movement, and John Breitweiser, an artist with an extensive résumé of solo and group exhibitions, met on a snowy night at a club in Chicago on December 8, 1977; (I’ll save you doing the math – it was 35 years ago.)
I spotted John chatting with a group of his friends; he was dressed in the uniform of the era: beard, checkered shirt, his jeans tucked into the red boot socks that were peeking out of his Doc Martens; adorable then as he is now. A couple of beers, and I worked up the nerve to ask him to dance; John likes to say that no one dances quite like I dance. After a couple of dances, I asked him if he wanted to go home with me – it was the 70’s, we were very direct in those days; he looked at me as if I had lost my mind and refused. Then I asked if I could join him and his friends, but he said no again. Sometime later, when I grabbed my coat and headed toward the exit; John, who says he had been keeping an eye on me, told his friends he had to leave, grabbed his coat and caught up with me as I was leaving.
Slogging through the still falling heavy snow, we were asked to help push a car free from a snow bank. John dislocated his knee and hobbled the few remaining blocks to my house. We spent the night in front of a roaring fire and despite his swollen, throbbing knee as well as rug burns… we have been together ever since.
In 1978, Stuart opened “In a Plain Brown Wrapper,” a gallery which exhibited cutting edge work by leading artists including Robert Mapplethorpe, Hollis Sigler, Keith Smith, George Platt Lynes, Charles Demuth, Janet Cooling, Paul Cadmus, and, yes, John Breitweiser; art that dealt with sexuality and gender identification. The next year Stuart opened the eponymous gallery, Stuart Wilber, Inc. with the same focus.
After five years of battling snow and ice, the couple relocated to San Clemente, California, seeking a friendlier climate. Instead, they encountered a climate of homophobia where life as an openly gay couple became a political act. Stuart served on the board of Laguna Beach Shanti and worked with GLAAD on letter writing campaigns. John’s art turned political; he began a body of work that dealt with violence against gays and lesbians. The paintings were widely exhibited on college campuses and galleries in Orange County, and in 1994, John was named Man of The Year by the Orange County Cultural Pride Committee.
The couple relocated to Seattle, where Stuart, concerned about the lack of publicity for the 2009 National Equality March, began promoting it and secured the endorsement of PFLAG and other national organizations for the D.C. event, as well as working with the activist group, Seattle OUTprotest, to organize a local march to promote the approval of Referendum 74. The bill was approved and granted domestic partnership rights to same sex couples in Washington State. In 2010 Stuart was invited to join a group of other LGBTQ activists at a retreat at the Highlander Research and Education Center, where, in the footsteps of Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they were schooled in techniques of non-violent civil disobedience, and strategized on the next steps to achieving full legal and social equality. The retreat was the genesis of GetEQUAL, an organization he continues to work with and support.
In 2011 he organized a successful effort to ask Microsoft to stop allowing the funding of Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups by removing its online store from the Christian Values Network, and with fellow activist Josh Castle whom he met at Highlander, spearheaded a successful campaign to have the pride flag raised on Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.
On December 9, the first day their marriage is permitted in the state they now call home and the first day of their 36th year together, surrounded by family and friends, John Breitweiser and Stuart Wilber will be married in Seattle. Mary Bacarella, Vice President Brand Management of Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass, who worked with Stuart and Josh to meet a $50,000 community grant to raise the flag on the Space Needle, will officiate.
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