The world was making plans for Valentine's Day, but not Victor Beaumont. There was no one in his life. Still, instead of moping in his Arlington, Va., apartment, he headed out to a popular restaurant. Dean Robinson was in the same boat. An extrovert, he enjoyed being around people and simply wanted a decent meal. They chatted while waiting to be seated at a communal table for lone diners. Beaumont snagged the last chair; Robinson was ushered to another table. They exchanged glances across the room and that might have been the end of it, but for Robinson's decision to make the first move.
"He came up and talked to me," Beaumont recently reminisced, "and it took off from there."
The year was 1984. Today, the silver anniversary of that encounter, Beaumont, 63, and Robinson, 74, will exchange vows in front of family and friends at a downtown St. Petersburg church. The words will be traditional, but their lives have been anything but.
For better, for worse.
"Are you a homosexual?"
The words jumped off the form. Beaumont didn't hesitate. He lied.
An honest answer would cost him security clearance for a position with a defense contractor.
Attitudes have changed since. Still, he and Robinson have faced difficulties as they've built a life together.
Relatives shunned them. A former neighbor refused to speak to them. Robinson lost his job as a Lutheran church organist when the pastor discovered he was gay. They lost friends to AIDS.
Back then, the couple often kept their private lives a secret.
"We have, in our advanced age, become much more engaged and much more out there, much more involved in making people understand that this involves real people and real issues," said Beaumont, a former project manager for a defense contractor.
Last year the couple campaigned unsuccessfully against Amendment 2, which defines marriage in Florida as a union between a man and a woman.
Today, the men will have a Valentine's Day wedding — complete with a red velvet, heart-shaped cake. Never mind that their marriage won't be legally recognized or bring automatic legal advantages like inheritance rights or health insurance and Social Security benefits.
For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health.
It was New Year's Eve 1997. The men were relaxing in their remote cabin in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Robinson's right side began to throb. A mad dash to the hospital revealed the need for emergency gall bladder surgery. During the operation, he had a heart attack.
What both men remember most is that hospital employees refused to give Beaumont information and denied him access to Robinson's room.
"Imagine someone you love being critically ill," Beaumont said, "and not being able to find out how they're doing."
Robinson, a retired court stenographer, has had colorectal cancer and triple bypass surgery. Medical bills forced him into bankruptcy, which wouldn't have happened if the two could have shared a health care policy, Beaumont said.
"I had very good health insurance at work," he said. "Dean, because he was self-employed, didn't. After I retired, I got notice that they're now providing partner benefits."
To love and to cherish, till death do us part.
Robinson's 43-year-old daughter flew in from Geneva, Ill., to walk her father down the aisle.
"I think any wedding, regardless of who it is, is a celebration of love," said Melody Ulin.
Her sons, 15 and 12, have yet to meet their grandfather. "My husband is very protective of the children," Ulin said.
Robinson and Ulin's mother divorced in 1970 after 12 years of marriage. Robinson, who always knew he was gay, said they drifted apart. Robinson's son, Michael, a devout Mormon, will not attend the ceremony. The two have not spoken in years.
The couple, who moved into their Historic Kenwood bungalow in 2004, have taken such rifts in stride.
"Victor and I, as we've gotten older, we realized that people are the way they are," Robinson said. "When we're not totally being accepted, we just say, that's the way it is."
I give you my love.
The couple decided to marry after Beaumont's cousin, who is also gay, invited them to his California wedding last summer.
Gay marriage was legal at that time in California, but voters banned such marriages. Whether those that were performed remain valid is still unclear.
In any event, the couple wanted to have a religious ceremony to commemorate their union at the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg.
"We wanted to share it with our family and friends," Beaumont said.
That circle grew as the outgoing couple planned their nuptials and met new friends. At least 125 people are expected today, almost four dozen more than originally intended.