Volume 73, Number 7 | June 16 - 22, 2004

Villagers become ‘poster couple’ for gay marriage

By Erica Stein

Vincent Maniscalco, left, and Edward DeBonis, right, with Somerville, Mass., Mayor Joseph Curtatone on May 19, 2004, the day of Maniscalco and DeBonis’s civil ceremony in Somerville City Hall.

The first time Vinnie Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis got married, they were followed around by a film crew and had to build part of the altar by themselves. The second time, CNN showed up at the wedding. Two years before same-sex civil marriages were legal in Massachusetts, Maniscalco and DeBonis, Village residents, decided that they wanted to have a religious ceremony.

Unlike their civil counterparts, religious marriages don’t confer any tangible benefits or legal status to couples, but to Maniscalco and DeBonis, both devout Catholics, it was emotionally just as important. In fall of 2002, with even Canada’s legalization of same-sex marriage a year in the future, a private religious ceremony was a better possibility than civil recognition. “In 2002 there were no civil options in North America,” Maniscalco recalled. “We were both raised in the Catholic tradition. We had received the other sacraments as we grew up. This seemed like the next natural step; for our relationship to be blessed in the church.”

As they planned their wedding, Maniscalco — who has worked as a staff member for local politicians — and DeBonis — a lawyer — noticed a flyer that had circulated in their church group requesting interested couples planning a religious ceremony to participate in a documentary. “There were these independent filmmakers interested in gay weddings,” said Maniscalco. “We called them and spoke to them. They seemed professional and sensitive, so we agreed to let them film us. It did add some stress, but we felt that it was important for people to see our story, to see this process.”

Directors Abigail Honor and Yan Viziberg turned the couple’s story into a 71-minute documentary called “Saints and Sinners” that focused on Maniscalco and DeBonis’s efforts to secure a location and a priest for the ceremony and to get their wedding announcement into The New York Times Styles section.

“Technically, you can have a Catholic wedding anywhere. People have them in their homes and outside. But we were very comfortable in St. Peter’s,” said Maniscalco of the Chelsea church at 346 W. 20th St. “They had been very welcoming and accepting, and it felt familiar to us because Episcopalian churches look a lot like Catholic ones. We just had to bring part of the altar ourselves. The church was under construction and they were very gracious.”

Maniscalco and DeBonis’s Oct. 18 wedding came almost two months after The Times began printing same-sex wedding announcements. “Saints and Sinners,” which recently screened at the Human Rights Watch film festival and will begin playing at Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St., on June 18, deals in part with the couple’s efforts to have their wedding included in the Times. “We were the first Catholic couple who had a religious ceremony to be included. Our friend, who’s a priest, presided.”

Since then, while the Episcopalians have elected their first openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, the Catholic Church has maintained its condemnatory stance on same-sex marriage. “I’m not sure I’ll see that change within my lifetime,” said Maniscalco. “I mean, it took them 500 years to admit Galileo was right. But someday.”

In 2003, when Ontario and two other Canadian provinces legalized civil same-sex marriage, Maniscalco and DeBonis planned a trip to Ontario to participate in a civil ceremony. They did eventually go, and served as witnesses at the civil marriage of another gay couple, but, hearing encouraging new from Massachusetts, decided to wait. “I wanted to get married in the States if I could,” said Maniscalco.

This past May, he and DeBonis — who are both highly visible in the city’s gay community and well-known as activists — traveled to Sommerville, Mass., to be married by a justice of the peace. “It was a little crazy. We applied for a license on May 17, the first day you could, and you’re supposed to wait three days, but we’d heard that the governor was going to try and stop the weddings on the third day. So we applied for a waiver and got married on the 19th. It was nuts. CNN and The Times were there,” said Maniscalco. “When we came back to the city, one of our friends, who had seen us on TV, came up to me and said, ‘So how many weddings are you guys going to have?’ ”

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