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Brian, Toby and Madonna: A gay wedding, unrushed

Monday - 6/9/2014, 12:32am  ET

In this May 25, 2014 photo provided by Isaac Oliver, Toby Sowers, left, and Brian Rubin watch as Raven, right, performs during their wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York. Raven, aka David Petruschin, has gained a wide following since appearing on the TV reality show "RuPaul's Drag Race." (AP Photo/Courtesy Isaac Oliver)

DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- From their first date, it took Brian Rubin and Toby Sowers only days to fall in love and barely seven months to get engaged.

Then the pace of their love story slowed. They spent 20 more months planning their wedding, a three-day flurry of celebrations and ceremonies in New York City.

There were minor crises along the way: losing a videographer just two weeks before the big day; worries that Toby's sister might miss the wedding while bearing a child. But the baby conveniently arrived a week early, a new videographer was found, and mostly the long run-up to matrimony was exhilarating as the couple and their wedding planner designed a gala occasion. It was all so very traditional -- well, almost everthing.

At their joint bachelor party, recalled Toby, "the strippers were male."

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In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, we have grown accustomed to watching gays and lesbians rush to say "I do."

Over the past six months, federal and state judges taking note of that decision have struck down long-standing bans on same-sex marriage in 10 states -- prompting gay couples by the hundreds to flock at first opportunity to courthouses and county clerks' offices in states such as Utah, Michigan, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. In some cases, the window was open only briefly before stays were issued that halted the weddings. There was no time for planning, for booking venues, for contemplating large-scale weddings and all the logistical chores they entail.

"I am just in shock," said Susan Barr after she and her partner were the first to marry in Little Rock, Arkansas, during a brief span in May before a ruling allowing gays to wed there was stayed.

The wedding of Brian Rubin and Toby Sowers was not like that. The date, May 25, was chosen in the fall of 2012; gradually, they picked out colors and venues and all the nuptial details. It's been that way in many of the 19 states that allow same-sex marriage. The option has been around long enough to become normalized and apolitical, with gay couples afforded all the leeway and time that straight couples have to plan, to fret, to dream about the wedding day.

"We feel very fortunate," said Brian Rubin, "that we've been able to have a relationship on the same timeline as everyone else."

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For all their love of tradition, the couple's first date was very much a result of modern technology.

It was New Year's Day of 2012, and Toby -- founding partner of a broadcast advertising agency -- was bicycling in Manhattan's West Village when he received a message on his iPhone.

The first sentence was a single word: "Cute."

It was from Brian, employing the gay social networking app Grindr that allows users to see photos of other users in their proximity.

They met for a dinner date two days later, hit it off over margaritas and roast chicken, and dated again in two weeks. As Toby put it, "We've been inseparable ever since."

By midsummer, Brian -- founder of a New York public relations firm -- was wrestling with how to propose. He finally opted for a date in August, at the close of a business trip in Cologne, Germany, where Toby was going to meet him before they headed to a Madonna concert in Switzerland.

They visited a Cologne locksmith on Aug. 16 to get an engraved padlock and the next day headed to the Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine, where thousands of couples have placed locks as symbols of their love. Just before they fastened theirs, Brian proposed.

"Nobody tells you that when you ask your future spouse to marry you, the first thing you see is the blood completely drain from that person's face, and a look of complete fear take over their eyes," Brian wrote later on the wedding website. "Fortunately, that was only momentary, and Toby responded with a yes."

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With ambitions for a large and relatively lavish celebration, Brian and Toby hired one of the top planners in the same-sex-wedding industry, Bernadette Smith, who has worked with hundreds of clients since the first legal gay marriages in the U.S. took place in Massachusetts in 2004. She's written three books about gay weddings and, as founder of the Gay Wedding Institute, has offered training for the mainstream wedding industry about how to boost business with same-sex couples.

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