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Gay pair sing new tune on marriage

On occasion and for no particular reason, I break into song. But my crooning has been considerably less enjoyable for me and my family since we met Jamie Offenbach, a Juilliard-trained opera singer who often marches into our house in mid-performance.

Just the other night, Jamie and my wife and daughter were singing “The sun’ll come out tomorrow” with full-blown Broadway bravado, drowning out my feeble attempts to do backup. I can’t do Ricky Ricardo, let alone Ethel Merman.

Jamie and his partner, Stuart Zwagil, an executive for an entertainment and documentary production company, have been our pals since my wife, Alison, and I bought our Silver Lake house from them seven years ago. I’m bringing up the boys, as Alison calls them, because of California’s gay and lesbian marriage revolution.

Before the state Supreme Court ruling cleared the way, Jamie and Stuart maintained they had no desire to get married. They’d been together happily for 24 years, they said, and didn’t need anyone’s validation.

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I took them at their word, so imagine my surprise when, during a cookout at our house, they announced plans to get hitched sometime this summer.

What changed their minds?

Actually, nothing changed. As Stuart described it, their earlier nonchalance about marriage grew out of not wanting to get their hopes up about something that wasn’t possible. So until the Supreme Court justices began throwing rice last month, they didn’t talk much about tying the knot.

But that didn’t stop them from thinking about it.

Jamie said that at dozens of weddings for straight friends over the years, he was painfully envious. “That’ll never be me,” he thought each time, feeling like a second-class citizen.

Stuart, meanwhile, said he always wanted to be married because he so admired his parents’ deep, loving commitment.

“Oh my God,” Stuart told a friend 24 years ago when he first spotted Jamie in Baltimore. “He is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

Jamie, meanwhile, nervously told a co-worker:

“I just bumped into a guy I know I will be with for the rest of my life.”

And what’d the co-worker say?

“She said, ‘That’s what you said two weeks ago,’ ” upon seeing another hunk.

But three weeks later, Jamie and Stuart moved in together and they’ve never parted.

They say love at first sight, and monogamy, may have saved their lives, because AIDS was just beginning to claim many of their friends. Over the years they avoided places in the country where knuckle-draggers are the dominant class, they embraced the freedom of Los Angeles, and they celebrated the gay movement’s small steps forward as nothing less than civil rights victories.

And now they can finally stop living in sin.

It’s a sweet story, no doubt about it. But there’s enough vinegar in the mix to keep it interesting.

As any couple knows -- gay or straight -- nobody gets through a day without a grievance or two. One reason my wife and I are such pals with Jamie and Stuart is because we’re very much alike. Loving, yes, but not afraid to speak our minds.

In the case of Jamie and Stuart, there’s a Felix and Oscar thing going on. Jamie has spasms over a crumb on the counter. Stuart doesn’t like that Jamie is keeping count. (Separate toothpaste tubes are essential to keeping the whole thing from unraveling.)

The other day Stuart was rushing out to an important meeting and left a wooden spoon in the sink after eating a cup of yogurt. Jamie saw the spoon, feared damage to the wood finish, and e-mailed the offending party.

“Are you purposely trying to drive me crazy?”

Stuart quickly shot back:

“Yes. I am trying to slowly drive you crazy.”

Then there are the scuff marks on the floor.

“He wears his little boots, little go-go cowboy boots,” Jamie snarked. “He’s in front of the mirror for 15 minutes doing his hair. Then he comes back out to read his e-mail. Then back to do his hair for 15 minutes. By the time he leaves there’s a trail of black marks. Either take the boots off or clean the marks. I am not his mother.”

My advice?

Jamie has to let go of the wooden spoons. Stuart, who’s in his 40s after all, has to give up the cowboy boots.

Little compromises like these, while difficult, are much less painful than the fees charged by divorce attorneys. But I’m not sure how they’ll resolve the problem of Stuart getting home late from work and then, rather than “focus on us,” as Jamie puts it, keeps checking office e-mail on his Blackberry, which Jamie calls his Crackberry.

I have a feeling, though, that the boys -- who’ve been together twice as long as my wife and I -- are going to make it just fine as Mr. and Mr.

After a few playful barbs, they were dancing in the foyer of their Hollywood Hills home where I visited them Monday night (Stuart had the boots off). Pouring on the schmaltz, they were singing the tune they jokingly called their wedding song:

Always and forever

Each moment with you

Is just like a dream to me

That somehow came true.

--

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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