Married in every sense of the word, but strangers in the government’s eyes. That was the harsh reality for Steven Rosen and his late husband Cal Grogan.
When Rosen received the death certificate in 1995, it read his husband was single. The deep loss he was mourning was real, but went unrecognized.
“I was his primary caregiver and I held him in my arms as he died. I was his husband, and to see that not being reflected in the death certificate was heartbreaking for me,” Rosen said.
It was then that marriage equality became a cause for him.
Rosen is a wedding photographer in Brooklyn, New York, and has shot a spectrum of same-sex weddings over 10 years. He has captured nearly 100 same-sex weddings ranging from intimate ceremonies, where he was the sole witness, to lavish nuptials with the Big Apple as the back drop, he said.
There is power in images and he deeply believes capturing the love and commitment of couples has played an important role in changing the mindsets that surround same-sex marriage.
“It’s my strong belief that one of the major reasons that the laws and peoples’ minds changed so quickly during those 10 years is because of all the wonderful images that I, and all the other wedding photographers out there who work with same-sex couples, had been releasing into the world,” he said.
As a man who has felt firsthand the effects of not having his marriage recognized, he said he understands what this means for couples that have been eagerly anticipating recognition.
“Same-sex couples did not grow up thinking they would get married,” he said. Couples come to him seeking guidance on how to plan their wedding and are often shocked by the cost of whole process.
In the past, when states began legalizing same-sex marriage, there was a race to get married before laws had the chance to change, he said. Among those in the sprint are couples that have been together for decades, some even 40 years.
When working with same-sex couples, Rosen said it’s important for the photographer to embrace the fluidity of gender expression and observe how the couples interact with each other. Making the couple feel comfortable and allowing them to express their affection is important for the photos and the couple’s experience.
Rosen’s story illustrates the shift in the attitudes toward marriage equality. He experienced the pain of loss without recognition to recognition accompanied by ridicule. He remarried nearly a decade after Grogan passed away, in an act of what he calls civil disobedience. Rosen and his current husband Ray Fallon wed in New Paltz, New York, when then Mayor Jason West controversially issued marriage licenses in 2004.
Protesters littered the bed and breakfast where the couple set to have their ceremony and shouted nasty messages to them and their guests, he said.
When Rosen and Fallon had their second and legal ceremony a decade later, they were delighted to be greeted with congratulatory hugs and support from strangers they encountered.
“It’s the American people who have changed, and for the better,” Rosen said.