For one same-sex couple, marriage was always the goal

Paul Waters, right, and his partner Kevin Voecks check the fit of their tuxedos for their wedding Tuesday, June 17, 2008. Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D- Los Angeles) will officiate the ceremony in a Studio City corporate office garden.
Paul Waters, right, and his partner Kevin Voecks check the fit of their tuxedos for their wedding Tuesday, June 17, 2008. Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D- Los Angeles) will officiate the ceremony in a Studio City corporate office garden.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It’s 9 a.m. on a Thursday and Paul Waters and Kevin Voecks are paging through photos of cakes at the Vienna Bakery in Thousand Oaks.

“Would you want something like that?” Voecks asked, pausing briefly on one.

“Hmmm,” Waters replied.

It’s 12 days until their wedding.

Voecks, 51, pointed to another, a four-tiered cake, with icing studs running down its side. “This one reminds me of a tuxedo shirt, it’s not effeminate.”

“I think bow ties here,” Waters, 53, said. “And I like the wedding bells on it.”

“Bow ties would be awesome!” Voecks said.

His soon-to-be mother-in-law, Peggy Waters, 80, looked on as her only son and his groom finalized the order.

“Kevin’s a 10,” Peggy Waters said. “All the women Paul brought home, I never liked. This is still a dream come true.”

It was Fourth of July weekend in 1993 when Voecks saw Waters across the bar at a country/western beer bust in North Hollywood.

Beer in hand, Voecks walked over and said: “Hi.”

Within months, Waters knew he had met the right man. But Voecks thought of himself as an “eternal bachelor.” That fall, Waters gave him a week to decide -- commit or go their separate ways.

Waters moved into Voecks’ Valley Village house on Oct. 29, 1993. They bought matching rings engraved with that date. But they asked the jeweler to leave enough space for a second date: their hoped-for wedding day.

At the time it was wishful thinking.

As laws changed over the years, Voecks and Waters registered as domestic partners: first in West Hollywood, then in Los Angeles County, and finally in California. They contemplated using friends’ addresses in Massachusetts so they could marry there. But they wanted more than a symbolic union.

“We don’t want a marriage with an asterisk,” Waters said.

“We want the real deal,” Voecks said.

On May 15, the day the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Waters and Voecks were in Las Vegas.

In their hotel, they took calls from excited friends and watched coverage on television. Waters turned to Voecks.

“The first day we can,” he said, “we’re going to get a license.”

“Finally,” Voecks replied, “we’ll get the rings engraved.”

Waters, an insurance agent and Santa Monica native, was well into his 30s before he realized he was gay. His friends, though, were hardly shocked. “Well, duh,” he remembered someone saying. “We’re glad you found out.”

His mother Peggy, an interior decorator, had many gay friends. She watched some struggle with their sexuality, including a close friend who killed himself. When her son came out she was supportive.

“He was still the same,” she said.

Waters had been dating men for less than a year when he met Voecks.

Voecks, a dealer of high-end audio equipment, grew up in a conservative Lutheran family in Omaha. He came out to friends when he moved to Massachusetts in the 1970s for college, but he hid his sexual preference from his family for decades. “There is no such thing as gay,” Voecks said of his upbringing in Nebraska.

He never told his father, who died in 1993. He only confided in his mother at Waters’ insistence, as her memory had begun to fail. The revelation was “really hard on her,” Waters said.

Shortly before she died in 2002, Voecks visited her and got a small measure of acceptance.

By then, dementia had stolen many years of memories. Still, as her son -- who never cooked -- looked through her recipe box, she asked: “Will your, um, friend be making these for you?”

Waters, who never met her, took it as a sign. Although her memories were stuck in about 1970, somehow his existence had penetrated. He hoped it comforted her to know her son was loved and cared for.

Three weeks to plan a wedding they’d waited nearly 15 years to hold.

The schedule was hectic. Thirteen days out: confirm plans for the wedding location. Twelve days: pick cake, e-mail invitations. Ten days: final alterations for tuxedos. Nine days: look for cake topper. Eight days: order flowers. Seven days: confirm appointment to get marriage license in Ventura. Six days: champagne and cheese tasting, visit wedding site with wedding planner. Five days: haircuts. Four days: last-minute errands. Three days: pick up Voecks’ nephew and his family at airport; meet with Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), who will officiate.

It was important for them to wed Tuesday, to again take the first opportunity to register their commitment.

Waters envisioned a tiny wedding. Voecks saw it differently: as big as they could make it on such short notice. They invited 300 guests, set a $5,000 budget and got to work.

“He’s become the groomzilla,” Voecks said of Waters as they looked at the location for the couple’s wedding in a Studio City office garden.

Searching for wedding supplies at gay pride festivities, Waters ran into friends. They offered congratulations but wondered: Why the rush?

“This is our way to allow all our family and friends to have a memory that they can point to and say ‘I remember the day it happened,’ ” Waters said. “To say I was there, and just didn’t read about it in the paper.”

On Wednesday evening, Waters and Voecks tasted champagne at the Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City.

Melody Dosch, the owner, watched as the men finalized selections that she has helped heterosexual couples choose for years. Suddenly, she leaned back in her chair and started crying.

Waters grabbed a napkin off the table. “What happened?” he asked.

“It’s just that I can see what this means to you, something we take for granted,” Dosch said. “It’s like we get a gift in return finally being able to do this.”

But they know others feel differently.

Looming is the November ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. At pre-wedding haircuts at MJ’s Hair in West Hollywood, Voecks raised the possibility that it could pass and annul their marriage. In 2000, Proposition 22 defined marriage as between a man and a woman and got 61% of the vote.

MJ’s owner Michael John, a longtime friend, said he believed this time would be different.

“Voters are going to have to look in the faces of people like you and decide whether or not they want to take away your rights,” John said.

Voecks and Waters nodded in agreement, but in the mirror they exchanged a wary glance. Their wedding day, a day of joy for them, will be marked by politics.

“It’s the ultimate statement of love and to some who don’t know us, it’s something inherently political,” Waters said.

“But for us,” Voecks said, “this is the statement we’ve waited for 15 years to make.”

To follow Kevin Voecks and Paul Waters as they get their marriage application and wed Tuesday check back at