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Bells for Beaux

Gay couple finds love at Harvard, will tie the knot at Memorial Church this summer

By Alice E. M. Underwood, Crimson Staff Writer

The day Billy M.K. Stallings ’10 proposed to Paul G. Nauert ’09, a large rainbow stretched across the Texas sky. The couple had driven up to Austin from Billy’s home in San Antonio, and they sat on the lawn in front of the capitol building, its pink granite glowing in the late afternoon sun.

“Paul Gregory Nauert,” Stallings began—and a nervous speech about commitment and gratitude spilled out to his boyfriend of the last four months.

“I knew at that moment,” Nauert recalls, “as bats were flying overhead and the stars were coming out, and then he said, ‘Will you marry me?’”

With the ring on Nauert’s finger, the newly engaged couple kissed as they sat on the lawn in front of the Texas capitol.

“Hey!” they heard suddenly. The two looked up at a group of men around their age. Austin was a more liberal part of Texas than most, but the two began to worry. They hadn’t encountered any homophobia until now in their time together—was their love going to be challenged the very night they got engaged? One of the men standing above them spoke.

“We were just going to play Ultimate Frisbee,” he said. “Would you like to join us?”

HERE COMES THE GROOM

The couple plans to marry in Memorial Church on May 28, 2010, the day after Stallings’ graduation.

“We had heard rumors about a twenty year wait list, stories about people getting married somewhere else but renewing their vows in Mem Church,” he says. Nevertheless, the couple was able to call the chaplain and set a date right away.

Stallings says his father is a reverend in the Progressive Catholic Church and will officiate the ceremony. Many of the couple’s friends have also offered their talent and support.

“I didn’t suspect that the wedding would bring out so much generosity,” Stallings says. Friends have offered to photograph and sing at the wedding, and the couple feels that the support is not unidirectional.

“A wedding is a commitment to the community,” Nauert explains. “The same-sex element enriches it with courage.”

Because they’re both from states with constitutional bans against gay marriage—Stallings hails from Texas and Nauert from Missouri—Massachusetts is one of the five states in which they can legally tie the knot. According to Sexton Richard D. Campbell, about 30 same-sex ceremonies have been performed in Memorial Church since gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004.

Getting married in the state where they went to college—and on the campus itself—has a special significance to the couple.

“In falling in love with Billy, I fell in love with Harvard in a way I never could have imagined,” Nauert says. “Now there’s an archaeology of emotion that Harvard has for us.”

Excavating the site of their relationship reveals that, even though the couple only spent a few months together before getting engaged, the two have created a strong foundation for their future.

WEDDING BELLS ARE RINGING

“I think they’re perfectly matched,” says Stallings’ father, Reverend Larry D. Stallings. “They’re compatible, terribly interested in what the other is doing, and they promote each other’s interests. They’re talking about adopting children and having a family.”

He says he was impressed with the couple’s forethought, and adds that he had no doubts about the couple, even marrying so young.

“Maybe their journey seemed more natural to me than to others because it was so parallel to mine,” the father says. “I wanted to marry Billy’s mom the first week I met her, so as the next step in their relationship it seemed perfectly right to me.”

While the older Stallings waited a little more than a week to propose to Diane Kasser, the two have celebrated well over 30 anniversaries. Kasser is just as supportive of her son’s decision to get married.

“We feel that they’re mature, that they’re young in years but they can handle this,” she said. “They each put the other one first and give 100 percent to the relationship.”

The couple’s friends have also been supportive of the relationship, and agree that youth should not be a barrier to their marriage.

“People who say they’re too young don’t know them very well,” says Mariah A. Bush ’10, a close friend of the young couple’s and their official wedding photographer.

Megan A. Shutzer ’10, another friend who fully supports the couple’s decision, says that most people who know the couple well have reacted with enthusiasm—with one possible exception.

“I think my parents are disappointed because they love Billy and they wanted us to get married,” Shutzer jokes. “Every mom Billy has ever encountered is disappointed he’s not marrying their kid—he’s such a mom-pleaser.”

NOT A PIECE OF CAKE

But not everyone at Harvard has expressed the degree of enthusiasm shown by friends and family. Stallings and Nauert have encountered skepticism about their decision to marry so young, especially as they only began dating several months before the engagement.

“Most people at Harvard are focused on traditional forms of normative success and wouldn’t get engaged as undergraduates,” Stallings says. “It’s not even an issue even of being too young, but of jeopardizing chances of success. But I know I will certainly achieve my greatest success through being in love with him.”

The couple’s hopes and plans for the future have defied their peers’ skepticism. While they say they have been lucky to avoid encounters with homophobia and have been accepted and supported by most of the people closest to them, their greatest trial has been in their interactions with Nauert’s parents. Though they were relatively understanding when Nauert came out to them as bisexual before starting college, their reaction to his relationship with Stallings was less accepting.

“My parents were incredibly afraid of it when I first brought it up to them,” he said. After Nauert graduated from Harvard last spring, he and Stallings, who had been together for six weeks at that point, drove from Cambridge to St. Louis and spent a difficult few days in his family’s home. While the two were not engaged yet, it was clear that the seriousness of their commitment to each other bothered Nauert’s parents.

“The healing still hasn’t taken place, and there’s been no genuine recognition of the partnership,” Stallings adds.

While Nauert is on speaking terms with his parents, he spent Thanksgiving with the Stallings family and plans to spend Winter Break there as well.

“It was unclear how much is frustration with commitment, and how much is their inability to grasp that two people of the same sex are getting married,” Nauert says.

While the Nauerts have been more reluctant to recognize their son’s engagement, Paul says he hopes they will become more accepting in the future.

“Paul’s family really loves him and there’s a relationship to be salvaged there,” Shutzer says. “I hope they can see that in the excitement of the wedding.”

‘THE VOCATION OF LOVE’

The couple feels fortunate that aside from the conflict with Nauert’s family, which they attribute more to his parents’ worries about commitment than to homophobia, they have faced few other difficulties in being public with their same-sex relationship.

“We’re very lucky we haven’t been through the scarring things that shape much of the queer experience,” Nauert says.

“Homophobia is a channel for a lot of anger and selfishness,” Stallings adds. “One thing about Harvard is that homophobia is just not tolerated, because there’s no one here who’s going to validate it.”

They say they are glad to have met each other and fallen in love in a place that is so accepting, compared with much of the country. They also say that they believe they have a duty to help people less fortunate by joining the call for action.

“It is incumbent on people in our position and with our privilege to be as open as we can in every situation,” Stallings says. “Even holding hands as we walk down the street is an involuntary call to courage.”

The couple hopes to express their gratitude to the community—both their immediate friends and family and the American homosexual community as well—by sharing their love and giving back to those around them. As they both plan on attending law school, they hope to contribute to the formation of a centralized and organized strategy for gay rights advocacy, which they currently feel is lacking.

“They want to make the world a better place,” says Kasser, Stallings’ mother.

But wherever they end up, the two agree that their relationship will be the foundation of any choices that come along down the line.

“The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is Billy Stallings,” Nauert says. “I know that whatever vocation I arrive at it will be through the vocation of love, and whatever happens, we’ll be holding hands throughout.”

—Staff writer Alice E. Underwood can be reached at aeunderw@fas.harvard.edu.

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