ST. PETERSBURG — Desmond Clark noticed the visitor the first time he attended the event at the United Skates of America in Tampa.
At the next week's Gayskate, which Clark oversaw in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando in the early 2000s, he literally stumbled into Thaddeus Root. As Root departed the rink that evening, they scheduled a first date.
A disabled veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Clark had stayed in Tampa after his final posting at MacDill Air Force Base. He worked for an insurance firm and had his own information-technology consulting business. Root, a recent transplant from Cleveland, had hired on as a contractor with the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
Root, 47, says he appreciated Clark's community involvement. "He's organized and businesslike. I'm huge on ideas … and he is an executor of ideas."
Clark, 41, a self-described control freak, came to admire Root's creativity and love for the outdoors.
"It was adventurous canoeing and going to the beach with me," Root says, although he bristled when Clark presented him with his first mobile phone.
"You would have thought I had handed him a dead rat," Clark recalls.
Their relationship established, the men made a deal. If he could get full-time work, Root said, he wanted to move to St. Petersburg.
"That can happen, if you can find a place on the water," Clark told him.
Neither circumstance seemed likely at the time, but things began to fall into place. Root became the museum's chief of design, and the couple happened upon a 1950s rental house in Tropical Shores. "Right on the water," Clark said. "With a dock."
Root now is a collaborator on the city's Central Avenue Art in Transit project. Clark is the Morean Arts Center's technology, facilities and operations director.
Neither has taken an active role in advocating for same-sex marriage, but after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in June, they began to consider making a legal commitment. On Oct. 18, the 11th anniversary of their first date, they married in a ceremony conducted by Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr., a civil judge in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan and the same man who cited overreach by the city's executive branch in overturning a ruling to ban supersize sugary soft drinks.
Several friends and Root's mother accompanied them to the courtroom, but there was little fanfare, no exchange of rings and no formal attire.
On Halloween, wearing an elaborately beaded wedding dress and a tuxedo shirt and jacket purchased at a local Salvation Army store, they posed as a zombie bride and groom. And they raised glasses of the marriage beer they brewed, a cardamom ale bottle-conditioned with rosemary and honey.