Hello there

In 2008, Wednesdays were CJ's favorite day of the week.

He was a medical case manager at Mazzoni Center, a health center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people - the same place Alison did mental-health assessments for those beginning hormone treatment.

Usually, CJ and Alison worked in separate buildings. On Wednesdays, they shared an office.

CJ would tell Alison he needed to talk about a client, even when he had the needed info. "It was a convenient way to follow her around, like a little puppy," he admits.

They became good friends, but CJ hid his other feelings. Alison was taken.

CJ interviewed for a job out of state in spring 2009, and the thought of his moving hit Alison in a way she never saw coming. "It dawned on me that I liked him," she said.

But Alison also hid her feelings. "I was really trying to be a supportive friend and saying, 'I want you to get the job,' " she said.

Alison's relationship ended. CJ wound up staying at the Mazzoni Center.

After about a month of the single life, Alison called CJ. "Listen, I think I like you," she confessed. But she didn't think she was ready to date. "So why don't we just hang out?"

"That's cool," CJ said. "Why don't you come over and watch Glee?"

Glee was just the backdrop for kisses.

How does forever sound?

CJ, who grew up outside Baltimore and is now 33, and Alison, who is from Jenkintown and 32, moved into Alison's Germantown house, where they still live, in October 2010.

In November 2011, the couple went to New Orleans. CJ thought Audubon Park's big live oak tree, known as the Tree of Life, would be the perfect spot to pop an important question.

The tree was not as easily found as CJ surmised.

"I was hungry. And we had been walking for hours," Alison said. "I was close to a meltdown."

CJ spied a beautiful gazebo, and let Alison get a few steps ahead while he unsuccessfully tried to pin down the tree location with his phone.

He figured the gazebo was a good Plan B until Alison ran back, telling him there were a creepy guy and a dead duck over there.

They found a bench - Plan C. "I love you so much," CJ said, trying to get things started. But Alison was distracted by cold and hunger.

"Oh my God, this isn't working!" CJ thought to himself. But he persuaded an unhappy Alison to walk just a little longer, and there it was: the Tree of Life.

"Oh, this is so beautiful," Alison said.

A family with a screaming toddler walked toward them, and CJ deduced there was no time for fanciness.

"Honey, take my hands," he said, then blurted out: "Will you marry me?"

"Really?" Alison said.

CJ pulled out the ring he had specially made, got down on one knee, and "tried to be a little more proper about it," he said.

"Yes!" she said.

It was so them

But before the proposal, Alison, who has a private psychotherapy practice in Center City, expressed no interest in getting married.

CJ shared some of her qualms: Should they marry when same-sex partners cannot legally marry in most states, including Pennsylvania?

"A lot of our friends can't legally get married," CJ said. "It seems arbitrary we can. I was born female and transitioned to male. A few papers changed, and we went from not legal to legally recognized."

The couple eventually decided marrying could be a chance to show the world that "a queer marriage" does not hurt anyone, Alison said. "We want to celebrate our difference, and our love."

Rabbi Linda Holtzman, the life partner of Alison's clinical supervisor, spoke of these legal realities and complicated emotions at the ceremony, held at the Horticulture Center.

CJ's parents walked him down the aisle, and Alison's walked her. Their guests sat in a circle, and in the center, the couple wed.

The chuppah was made of birch, and their wedding cake was shaped like a birch tree with CJ's and Alison's initials carved on it.

Their ketubah - the Jewish marriage contract - featured renderings of their cats, Carter, Spock, and Falcor.

In a gender-equitable twist on Jewish tradition, each broke a glass at the end of the ceremony.

Awestruck

Ten people joined the couple at the front of the room to read six blessings. The rabbi read a seventh.

The readers surrounded the couple in one circle, and beyond them was a larger circle of friends and family.

"It was one of the most magical feelings I've ever had in my entire life," Alison said. "It was being connected to him, and then all of these layers of love."

"It was a major rush," said CJ.

Discretionary spending

A bargain: With the help of two friends who know how to silk-screen, the couple made custom tote bags for their out-of-town guests.

The splurge: Photographer Rebecca Barger. "I was obsessed with her work," said Alison. "It was totally worth it," CJ said.

The getaway

Five days in Panama.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Officiant

Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Mishkan Shalom, Philadelphia

Venue

The Horticulture Center, Philadelphia

Food

Stephen Starr Events, Philadelphia

Music

Ceremony: Guitar player Nero Catalano, Philadelphia; Reception: DJ Michael Mariano of the Remixologists, Philadelphia

Photography

Rebecca Barger Photography, Jenkintown

Flowers

Ilonka Comstock, Ilonka Floral Decorator, Malvern

Bride's dress

Designed by Tara Keely, purchased at Kleinfeld Bridal, New York City

Invitations

Weddingpaperdivas.com