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Southern Love: How We Met & Wed in Georgia After Marriage Equality Passed

Teresa Earnest

Jose and Levi Rodriguez never imagined they would marry in their home state. But after the Supreme Court ruling, the couple finally tied the knot in “old South” Savannah.  

Levi Rodriguez knew as soon as he left an Atlanta bar one night in 2012.

"As I walked out of the bar that night, I was like, 'That's going to be the one,' he says. "That's going to be the guy I marry."

Jose Rodriguez, his husband of four months, remembers the night exactly the same.

"We had been there for four hours, just talking," he says. "We didn't even realize the time was going by. The bartenders started flickering the lights, and we're like, 'Didn't we get just get here?' We didn't want to leave."

The two men first connected that night, but they had actually met two years before at Atlanta Pride. Among the bustling rainbow-covered crowds that October, the two men shook hands in passing--unaware that six years later they would be married.

Despite all the celebration, Levi recalls the moment clearly. "One of my good friends introduced us, kind of in passing," he says. "But I was fascinated with him. I just kept thinking, 'Oh my God, he's so beautiful.'"

After Pride, Levi and Jose stayed in touch over social media, until finally Jose sent the message that led to that timeless night under the bar lights.

"We fit so well," Levi says. "It felt like we had always been like that. It still does."

Jose and Levi

Levi moved to Atlanta from Valdosta, Georgia, and the two became inseparable. Wedding bells were already on their minds.

"I always knew marriage was in my future," Jose says. "I knew I wanted to get married. But we were certainly aware of where we lived and what that meant."

Before Obergefell, Georgia did not recognize same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships. State voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2004 banning marriage equality in the state--much like other states in the South.

"We saw it happening state by state by state," Levi says. "I never thought it would be in my lifetime. I figured Georgia and Alabama, they're going to be the last two. We're just going to have to wait."

The two men left Atlanta for seven months in San Francisco after Jose was offered a job. But ultimately, they decided to return to Georgia--despite the challenges.

"San Francisco is beautiful," Jose says. "And obviously, the gay community is so much larger. We just had trouble meeting people. We had such a big group of family and friends in Atlanta. The West Coast just never felt like home. We made that decision--to come back to what felt like home for us."

Jose and Levi

They returned in the spring of 2015, and only a few months later, the Supreme Court ruled marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

"When I saw the update on my phone, I called Jose immediately and started crying," Levi says. "I had to call him. I just had to tell him how much I loved him."

Levi didn't know, but Jose had been planning to propose since they left San Francisco. He found his opportunity while the couple were staying in New York for a few days, before embarking on a vacation to Europe.

"The ring was burning a hole in my pocket," Jose says. "My friends, my coworkers, even my boss had all given me these extravagant ideas for asking. But none of that seemed like us. I realized that our two or three nights in New York would just be us. So we were drinking coffee on a rooftop, overlooking Midtown, the sun setting, literally in a T-shirt and sweatpants. And that was it--the moment."

Jose held up the ring. Inside the band was inscribed, "more than anything"--the couple's constant answer to the question, "How much do you love me?"

The engagement was short. Following their summer trip, the pair married in February after winning a wedding contest hosted by a boutique hotel in Savannah, Georgia.

Both men were overjoyed with the wedding, but nervous about marrying in such an "Old South" town--plantations and all.

"Marrying my husband in that city was weird, but also amazing," Levi says. "I remember, I was waiting outside the hotel for Jose the day of the ceremony. These three guys walked up, just the definition of Southern--rebel flag T-shirts, khakis, everything. I told them I was getting married, and they asked where my beautiful bride was. I told them I was marrying my husband. They just smiled and said how amazing that was."

One man went inside and bought them all shots.

"He said to me, 'You look like you need a drink,'" Levi says. "We had our drinks and they congratulated me and left. That's definitely a moment that renewed my faith in humanity."

Jose and Levi

The two men married and have since continued to build their lives in Atlanta--though they plant to venture outside the South again some day.

"We're definitely looking to grow here," Jose says. "But neither one of us is the kind of person who can in live in just one city the rest of our lives."

For now, the men who shared a handshake years ago at Pride are entering this year's festivities married, looking to buy a house, and seemingly nothing holding them back.

"It's so nice to be able to say 'husband' here," Levi says. "This is my husband, and we are actually married. You feel like real people--a real part of this community."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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