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Just an ordinary, history-making couple

It’s a love story as old as the Internet—online acquaintances meet in person and hit it off.

“We weren’t looking for this,” says Steven Bridges, who had recently been in another relationship. “And then, after about a week, we looked at each other and were asking, ‘What is this?’”

What’s noteworthy about this love story is that Steven Bridges and Michael Snell would, nearly a decade later, become Maine’s first same-sex couple to be legally married. And, because Maine was one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote  in 2012, they were international news. For months and even years afterward, Bridges and Snell would discover that a photo of them kissing on the steps of Portland City Hall accompanied yet another story about same-sex marriage somewhere in the world.

Bridges and Snell kiss after being married. Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald

Bridges remembers freezing in panic as they left City Hall after midnight that night and saw hundreds of well-wishers, a dozen photographers and someone playing “All You Need Is Love” on an accordion. But Snell gently squeezed his hand, they walked down the stairs and, quite publicly and famously, kissed.

They’d already had a commitment ceremony in 2006, which they then thought was the closest they’d ever be to married. “It was everything a wedding was supposed to look like,” Snell says. “It just didn’t have the legal ramifications.”

Neither of the grooms being inclined toward public displays of affection, Michael recalls their first dance “in front of sixty pairs of eyes” as a memorable romantic—and confirming—moment.

But then, they spent thousands of dollars on legal documents that gave them the same legal rights same-sex couples are afforded through their legally recognized marriage, such as power of attorney and inheritance. When they traveled to states where their marriage wasn’t legally valid, they carried their papers in a Ziploc bag in the front pocket of their suitcase in case one of them fell ill and the other wasn’t allowed in the hospital, not being considered “family.”

In 2009, Snell and Bridges campaigned for marriage equality and were at a rather celebratory campaign headquarters when the disappointing numbers came in.

“Everyone was sure it was going to pass,” Bridges says, adding that several friends later admitted they didn’t think their vote would be necessary. “That loss was a kick in the gut.”

That’s why, when same sex marriage was on the ballot again in 2012, Snell and Bridges stayed home. And it passed. Sixty days later, on Dec. 29, 2012, at midnight, same-sex marriage would be legal in Maine.

Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald

That year had been a difficult one for Bridges, who had lost his stepdad and his father and nearly lost his mother in the span of three months. He wanted to end the year on a more upbeat note.

“We were driving home on Christmas night from his family’s,” Snell says, “and he asked me if I’d marry him at City Hall.”

“And then you said yes,” Bridges says, smiling.

At Snell’s first wedding in 1982, he married a childhood friend. He was 23, facing family pressure and, he admits, was afraid to come out.

“But I’ve got two wonderful children,” Snell says. “So, no regrets.”

Snell’s grown daughters drove up from Massachusetts to be there to see him and Bridges make their marriage legal in 2012. Otherwise, the grooms were expecting a rather private moment. They thought—or hoped—some older couple who had been waiting their entire lives to be legally married would be the first at City Hall. Instead, when Snell and Bridges arrived 15 minutes after the 10 p.m. opening, other couples were waiting in their vehicles. No one wanted to be first.

“They just wanted a private moment, just like we did,” says Bridges, who ended up shielding his Social Security number and mother’s maiden name on the marriage license application from photographers. Meanwhile, one of his daughters was texting to tell him that he and Snell were trending not only on the Portland Press Herald site (pressherald.com) but on USA Today’s.

“We’re both kind of quiet, shy people,” Bridges says. While his mother in northern Maine worried about their safety, fearing her son and his husband would be shot or hit by a car, the truth was that the couple instead were bombarded with questions.

Other than their history-making marriage, they say, they’re quite ordinary. They live in Portland’s West End. Bridges, 47, is a housing specialist and photographer. Snell, 58, is a real estate agent and massage therapist. They volunteer with Equality Maine​ and for Frannie Peabody Center and have served on the Pride Portland Steering Committee. They are active in Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders and Rainbow Business and Business Association, where Snell holds a seat on the board of directors.

“Just like every other couple, gay or straight, we have good days and bad,” Bridges says, adding that being recognizable briefly added some pressure to always represent the gay community positively. “When we first got married, people in the community said we were the best couple to do it because we represented normalcy, not the extremes. We’re gainfully employed and we own a home. We’re just like any other couple except we’re both men.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough.

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