COLLEGE PARK — For Chris and Shawn Riley, making their wedding guest list is a daunting task — as it would be for any couple inviting every Marylander who voted in favor of same-sex marriage this year.
Two weeks before the election, Elkridge resident Chris Riley, 31, took to Reddit, a popular social news website that bills itself as “the front page of the Internet,” to make an unusual announcement.
He and Shawn promised to invite anyone who voted for the same-sex marriage referendum to their wedding ceremony in Maryland.
“I thought that it would maybe help sway votes in our favor if people got the opportunity to witness first-hand what a gay wedding looks like,” said Chris, a gay rights advocate who works for a fire protection company.
His post prompted hundreds of replies from Reddit users voicing their support and vowing to vote for same-sex marriage.
Redditor Chelsea Reid of Mechanicsville has already marked her calendar to attend the couple’s wedding in April. She said she voted for Question 6, the same-sex marriage referendum, and is happy to see the Rileys legally get married in her state.
“I for one will be there. I’ve already promised to bring glitter,” she said. “I think it’s an honor to be able to see two people in love finally have the chance to be married just like any heterosexual couple.”
The Rileys have used the Internet for more than just activism. They also met each other online four years ago.
Shawn, 33, a chef, said that even though he had struggled to come out for years, he knew Chris was ‘the one’ when they first met.
“When he walked in the front door, I about lost it…I knew that second we were going to get married,” he said in an interview, sitting next to a blushing Chris.
They tied the knot in a civil marriage in Washington, D.C., in April 2010, nearly a year after they moved into an apartment in Elkridge with their two dogs. That’s when Chris Rochford took Shawn’s last name to become Chris Riley.
Both wanted a wedding ceremony with their friends and family in Maryland, their home state, but couldn’t because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal at the time.
“We came to the realization that we should not waste our time, energy, money, or emotions on a wedding here in a state that refuses to recognize our marriage in the first place,” Chris said.
The Rileys didn’t sit by idly, though. They became involved with Equality Maryland, a civil rights organization, and actively lobbied for the marriage equality bill in Maryland. They also testified in favor of same-sex marriage at several hearings in Annapolis. When the bill was signed into law last year, the Riley’s celebration was cut short by the state’s decision to put the law to referendum.
“I have worked tirelessly over the past several years to get [same-sex] marriage signed into law here, and then worked harder to get the law passed by the referendum,” Chris said.
Shawn was in Boston for work when Chris broke the news about the Reddit invitation.
“I think it’s a really cool, exciting idea that lets Marylanders see that we’re the same — we bicker, we have our good times, we’re just like any other straight married couple,” Shawn said.
On Election Day, Chris made a last-minute push for same-sex marriage with other volunteers outside the nearest polling station. When he got home to watch the results, he shared his anxiety with Shawn, still in Boston, over video chat.
“We were pretty unsure, because we knew the race would be so tight,” he said.
At around 1 a.m., the verdict was finally in: same-sex marriage had passed 52 percent to 48 percent. Chris sat in a state of disbelief, drinking from the wine glasses they were given at their civil marriage two years ago.
“I laid awake thinking about all we had been through, and how, now, that chapter had finally come to a close,” he said. “It still seems so hard to believe.”
Maryland was one of three states to approve same-sex marriage bill by popular vote in this month’s election. Same-sex couples will be legally allowed to get married in Maryland after Jan. 1.
“It’s so unfair that we had to go through this fight in the first place,” Chris said. “There’s just too many rights afforded to any other couple that they take for granted because they know it’s there, it’s automatically there. We didn’t have that.”
One Redditor, Macey Cozzolino of Towson, said if she wasn’t in Pennsylvania for school, she would have made it to the wedding.
“I would come to the wedding, but I’m married to my classes,” she said. “I’m so excited for them and for all the people in Maryland who will be able to realize their dreams now.”
The Rileys hope to wed around the same date of their civil marriage in April. They plan to use their ceremony to continue the fight for marriage equality.
They are asking their guests to make a donation of $5 or more to the Human Rights Campaign, which fights for LGBT rights nationwide, instead of a wedding gift.
Like most people, Chris dreams of a ‘big, white wedding.’ He knows he will definitely have a ‘big’ wedding to accommodate their growing guest list. His post has already been flooded by Reddit users asking for their invites and wondering if the ceremony would have an open bar.
Money is a major constraint to an elaborate ceremony, Chris said.
“We are not rich, just middle income folks, working our tails off to make money. We just don’t have the funding to go all out for an enormous wedding ceremony,” he said.
Chris hopes to solicit the support of LGBT-owned or LGBT-friendly businesses for the event. He has also reached out to talk show host and gay rights activist Ellen DeGeneres to help promote their wedding in Maryland.
“It’s sort of turning into a two-sided story here. One side of it is thanking all of the ones in Maryland who did vote for our marriage and would like to actually see the fruits of their labor…and the other side of it is to raise the money to keep the fight going,” Chris said.
Marriage equality advocates predict that the Riley wedding will be part of a flood of same-sex weddings after the law takes effect next year in Maryland.
Carrie Evans, of Equality Maryland, expects several of her friends and co-workers, who announced their engagements after the election, to finally get married in Maryland.
“So now we’re finally going to have that fabulous gay wedding that we’ve all been waiting for!” she said.