When the Supreme Court ruled last June that same sex couples could legally marry in Texas, John Nechman and Richi Ruiz didn't rush to the altar although they have been a couple for nearly 20 years.
Nechman, an attorney who is a leader in the fight for LGBT rights (his law firm was instrumental in challenging the Texas sodomy law which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in 2003), and Ruiz, an elementary school teacher, decided to wait until the day that had special meaning in their lives — February 21, 2016 — to tie the knot. It was on that day exactly two decades ago that they had started dating after Nechman wrote Ruiz a poem, which Ruiz still carries in his wallet.
Their families and hundreds of friends took over El Real restaurant for the nuptials, which longtime activist Ray Hill called "the largest gay wedding in Houston."
Afterwards, the happy couple and guests gathered in front of the restaurant for a group photograph.
A large wedding cake made of individual cupcakes created by For Heaven's Cake owners Rick Ballard and Ana Maria Ocampo Ballard was the focal point of the large room.
"We didn't want a traditional ceremony. We wanted it here in our forever home of Houston, before our family and friends, which is why we did not go off to another state before marriage was legal here," Nechman explains.
"The cake has silhouettes of some of our favorite cities —Istanbul, Rio, New Orleans, Barcelona — and we wanted the music, our outfits, and atmosphere to reflect that wild mix. It was important to us that our event be in Montrose, too, and our love for Tex Mex/margaritas and the dramatic room set up made El Real the perfect place."
Accompanied by his mother, Yolanda Ruiz, and father, Eudoro Ruiz, Richi Ruiz walks from the second floor of the restaurant down the staircase to the altar, which was decorated with a canopy of flowers as "Lucky Day" and "A Whole New World," the classic song from the hit movie, Aladdin, played.
The ceremony was particularly meaningful because Judge Phyllis Frye, the nation's first openly transgender judge, officiated. She was assisted by Hill, who was in tears when he told the audience, "It's a very proud day not only for these two wonderful friends of mine but for all of us."
Nechman's law parter, Mitchell Katine, served as his best man, while Ruiz's good friend, Hector Buitrago, served as his best man. Their godson, Massimo Marquez, was the proud ring bearer.
Before marrying the couple, Frye said,"Let your love be an inspiration to others to reach what is good within all of us."
The happy couple in colorful paisley tuxedo jackets.
The couple display their wedding rings.
Guests feasted on a Mexican buffet.
A mariachi band provided entertainment.
State Rep. Gene Wu reads a state proclamation heralding the couple on their wedding day. "Texas has spent so much time and money fighting marriage equality, I want to make sure they know that this is the now the law of the land," Wu said before wishing the couple "a lifetime of happiness."
Then it was time to celebrate with a mixture of Latin, American and international music. Ruiz originally hails from Colombia; Nechman was born in South Korea.
The celebration had a Mardi Gras vibe with colorful figures on stilts.
Special guest Laisha LaRue performed one of the couple's favorite songs, "Todos Me Miran" by Gloria Trevi.
Guests smile for the camera.
The celebration continued into the evening.
The ceremonial cutting of the cake.
Wedding guests toast the couple.
State Rep. Gene Wu, wife Miya Shay and son Winston were among the guests.
Also joining in the celebration were former Houston first lady Kathy Hubbard, South Texas College of Law dean Donald J. Guter and his wife, author Pat Guter, South Texas College of Law associate dean Helen Jenkins, HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones and judges Herb H. Ritchie, Barbara Hartl, Theresa Chang and Charle "Kin" Spain.
Also seen in the crowd were My Table founder Teresa Byrne-Dodge, Gordon Quan, Greg Glass, Steve Kirkland, S.J. Davidson Swanson, and restaurateurs Dennice Wilson, Catherine Duwez and Minh Nguyen.
At night, the big sign at El Real beamed congratulations.