Hello there

Michael had only recently moved to Baltimore to teach high school band when his colleague the choir teacher suggested he drop in on the voice lesson she was giving.

Her student, Paul, had moved to town nearly a decade before to become a postal inspector. When he wasn't investigating mail fraud, Paul performed in community theater - hence the voice lessons.

Michael showed up, and the choir teacher did a little acting of her own, suggesting, as though the thought had just occurred to her, that Paul show Michael around town. To Michael, it sounded like the best idea ever. "For me," he said, "it was pretty much love at first sight."

It took Paul a little longer to become romantically interested in Michael - but not much longer.

They agreed to meet two nights later for pizza and bar-hopping. Paul came directly from a costume party, so Michael opened his door to Charlie Chaplin.

They bonded over a shared love of music and theater, a similar propensity for laughter, and a remarkable ability to communicate easily from that very first shared meal.

Paul started the evening thinking he was only being nice to the new guy. But at the end of the night, "I invited him over for dinner the next day."

That December, Paul gave Michael another invitation, asking him to move in. Their decision to share an address felt like the biggest commitment they could make, Paul said. "Back then, marriage wasn't even a possibility."

Michael agreed. "When I moved into his house and it became our house, and we got a dog and did all those kinds of things that people who love each other do," he said, "that's when we knew it was forever."

Their first dog, a yellow Lab, was the late Lilly. Her brother Rooster, a chocolate Lab, still lives with the couple.

They bought each other matching gold and platinum bands to wear as outward signs of their commitment.

Several years later, Michael, who is now 43, left teaching for his current job as a software and project management consultant for Thomson-Reuters. After Paul, now 55, retired in 2009, both wanted to move home to Pennsylvania. Michael graduated from high school in Athens, Pa., while Paul grew up in Pittsburgh. But they loved the Philadelphia area and found a 1790s barn in Phoenixville that had been converted to a home.

"About four or five years into our relationship," Michael remembers,

"I overheard my mother, Dianne, telling one of my aunts that Paul was like another son to her."

How does forever sound?

After the federal government began recognizing same-sex marriages, in July 2013, Michael and Paul decided they should make their commitment legal so Michael would be entitled to spousal benefits. That practicality was met by sentiment when they realized 2014 would mark their 20th anniversary.

When the couple told Paul's parents of their plan, his mother, Dolores, said she already considered them married.

The couple thought they would need to leave the state to take this step, but then same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania.

"We were so happy to be able to get married here," Michael said.

It was so them

Paul and Michael abandoned plans for a quick ceremony in Maryland for a gathering of 100 at their farmhouse on the 20th anniversary of their first date.

Michael's brother Edward performed the ceremony, which included a Polish blessing to honor Paul's grandmother Teresa. The grooms, Michael's brothers, and his father, Edward, all wore Campbell tartan kilts in a nod to the Campbells' Scottish heritage.

"We wrote our own vows," Paul said, "which made everyone cry, including us."

Michael started with the story of pizza with Charlie Chaplin, listed the many reasons he loved Paul, and ended with a quote from Maya Angelou.

Paul's vows were a customized version of "I Will Never Leave You," a song from the musical Side Show, which the couple saw together. The original is about Siamese twins literally joined at the hip, but Paul recited, "I will always love you" instead. There was no need to change the lyric, "We were meant to share this moment."

They exchanged the same rings they'd worn for years, with their wedding date newly inscribed inside.

After the outdoor ceremony came the kind of "knock-down, drag-out party" their house seems made for, Michael said.

Pasta, salad, and grilled foods were served at stations, and those stations and the seating were placed strategically indoors and out to encourage guests to mingle.

Kriebel's Custom Bakery in Eagleville made a replica of their barn-turned-house from cake, with pig, dog, and cow cupcakes surrounding it.

The mojitos featured mint the couple grew. Slices of apples from their orchard bobbed in the sangria. And local gin mixed with rhubarb liquor to create a Rhuby Slipper.

A bus shuttled guests back and forth to the hotel, so no one had to be a designated driver.

Awestruck

Michael tried to control his emotions as he read his vows. "Then I looked over, and Paul was not doing a very good job at controlling his. And then I looked out at the sea of our friends, and none of them were doing a good job controlling theirs. That's when I lost it," he said. "It hit me right then and there how special and how wonderful this was."

Paul said he might have gotten through his vows to Michael without crying if he had gone first. It was like "having an out-of-body experience," saying those words, he said. "I had tunnel vision, it was like only the two of us were there."

Discretionary spending

A bargain: Berwick's Forget Me Not Vintage Rentals offered free chairs to the first same-sex couple to sign with them after same-sex marriage became legal in the state.

The splurge: Some of their other rentals, including vintage china and silver, tables made from old cable spools, and farm tables.

The getaway

A 10-day tour of New England.

Love: BEHIND THE SCENES

Officiant: Edward P. Campbell, groom Michael's brother.

Venue: The couple's home, Phoenixville.

Catering: Semplice Catering,

King of Prussia.

Flowers: Flowers: Village Flower Shop, Spring City, Pa.

Photo: Jodi White,

groom Michael's cousin.

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