Derek Tyus and Jonathan Garber have two very different backgrounds, yet find that they complement one another ideally. Says Jonathan, “The thing about relationships is that they are such a potent way to get grounded in your life and to reach the vision you have for yourself.” Today, the couple recently moved into a new home –a 100 year old farmhouse bulging with lots of space and history… there is talk of starting a family… Jonathan’s business is taking off and Derek is considering a new career. But they have not always felt quite so settled within their relationship together. Just a few short years ago, there was the initial chance meeting and then a full year’s silence before their story truly began.
How They Met…
Both Derek and Jonathan are from Wisconsin, though Derek was born and raised in Madison while Jonathan moved there several years ago from a rural town further north. “I was looking forward to the city, where there would be more GLBT folks,” Jonathan explains. Immediately, he became very active in the Madison community. “I was an early member of the Prairie Fairies, a social group here… And I helped to start a grassroots radio show but didn’t stay with it as far as getting it into production.”
Nonetheless the radio broadcast, “Query,” was a success and some time later Jonathan found himself a guest on the weekly talk show. “We were discussing the Prairie Fairies and our upcoming retreat and the other volunteer work we did as a group…” Jonathan recalls. “So I was sitting in the booth and looking through the glass and then I saw Derek, who was an engineer that day. And I thought to myself, ‘I need to meet this guy!’”
Derek remembers it a little differently. “A lot of people with the show had quit around that time, so everything was kind of disorganized. I was the only engineer I think, and this guy in the booth just kept looking at me. And then he said ‘Hi.’ I didn’t think much of it,” Derek laughs, remembering. “And he asked me out to coffee. You know, a lot of people have asked me to coffee before; I didn’t know what his intentions were.”
The pair went to the coffeehouse and chatted. “And then, when it was time to go,” Derek says, “he gave me a hug. Then I realized maybe he’d thought of this as more than just friendship – it was like a date!”
“To me,” quips Jonathan, “it wasn’t any kind of huge thing.”
“It was one of those hugs,” Derek claims, “where you didn’t want to let go for a long time. So I didn’t call him for a year.”
Adds Jonathan, “I didn’t know he was in a relationship at the time. He didn’t mention it.”
After nearly a year had passed, Derek found himself thinking once again about the guest from the radio show. He was no longer involved, and considered looking up Jonathan once again. “But I hadn’t saved his number or anything. So I had to track him down. I looked for him on the internet… I had to do a bit of searching and then I found him and emailed.”
Finally, as fate would have it, Derek and Jonathan met for their second meeting, and their first official date.
Getting to Know One Another…
As it turned out, their date that evening was indeed romantic. Springtime in Madison, and the flowers were just beginning to bloom. “We walked through the university grounds,” Jonathan describes. “There were crabapple blossoms falling from the trees. We had a great dinner and talked all night long.”
One characteristic that attracted Jonathan to Derek was his dedication to his family. Even today, the couple often visits Derek’s cousins or other family members on the weekends. “Even though he’s from a big city,” Jonathan remarks, “he has a family focus.”
“We do have our different cultures,” Derek adds. “Jonathan is from up north and he’s Jewish. I’m from Madison and I’m African American. Our experiences are a lot different.”
Lightly, he continues, “I think you’re kind of a product of your upbringing in some ways. And Jonathan is very trusting and I get the impression that if a new neighbor moved into the town where he was raised, everybody would bake a pie... You know, they don’t lock their doors at night. Whereas where I grew up, here in Madison, you didn’t even know your neighbors.”
Despite their differences, as the men began dating what struck Derek about Jonathan was his outgoing personality, his depth and his sincerity. “He was different than other people,” Derek says. “Jonathan didn’t like the typical bar scene kind of thing... You know, so many others are just shallow – it’s about presentation and such. Things that are important to you at 20 just aren’t important to you at 40,” he adds with a chuckle. “And Jonathan wasn’t like anybody I’d ever met. He’s just genuine and has a way about him. I’ve never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. He complements some of the things I have weaknesses in... and I guess I’m a complement for him too.
“People say you meet your significant other volunteering or doing something you like to do – and that’s actually how it happened for Jonathan and me.”
The Engagement & Ceremony Planning…
The couple’s engagement came with little fanfare. They had dated and moved in together, and at some point Derek says he simply looked at Jonathan one day and said outright that they ought to marry. “And he said, ‘Yeah,’” Derek recalls happily. “It just sort-of came out of my mouth and I just sort-of asked him.” Simply, naturally… after spending precious time getting to know one another, the men seemed meant for each other.
“We were going to wait a year,” adds Jonathan. “We had the rings picked out and a few things set up, but then it just wasn’t the right time. That year got to be a really hard one: there were a couple of deaths in the family, including my sister… and then Derek broke his arm right before our ceremony. It seemed like a sign that it wasn’t going to happen.”
Far from discouraged, the couple simply looked ahead to brighter times for moving forward with their wedding plans. They had considered traveling to Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage had been legalized, but then the state began barring non-residents from taking advantage of the groundbreaking legislation.
“Ontario (Canada) actually made more sense anyway,” Derek explains. “Going to Boston seemed so expensive and we’d have been required to stay for three days to complete the paperwork. Canada is really nice – you can do everything all in one day.”
The following year did indeed seem smoother; a more auspicious time presented itself to the couple. They found a Canadian-based officiant and began writing their own vows; they chose organic fabrics and hired an African tailor to hand-sew their ceremony attire. And they decided to have a small ceremony in Ontario in June, then a much larger reception for family and friends back home in September.
“My other sister lives in Michigan, so we got a minivan and filled it with seven friends… then stopped in Lansing so my sister and her husband could drive up too,” Jonathan explains. “It was important that she could be a witness for us.”
The evening prior to the ceremony, the group ventured into Canada and then enjoyed a relaxing dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant back in Detroit. The next morning, Saturday, the grooms prepared for their Special Day: the minivan was packed, all eleven in their wedding party loaded themselves inside and they traveled the short distance to the international border.
“The night before,” Jonathan recalls, “it was no issue at all. Then on Saturday the Canadian immigration officials randomly stopped us. They pulled out all our luggage and everything from the van, but it wasn’t really a problem.”
Adds Derek, “They were asking us about all our stuff and we told them we were getting married… and then we were just over-explaining… I think they were concerned we were smuggling in cigarettes or something.” He laughs, remembering. “After about half an hour, eventually they just gave up and let us through.”
The Wedding Day…
On June 2, 2007, Derek Tyus and Jonathan Garber were married in Ontario, in a scenic park overlooking the expansive river. The day was hot: instead of exchanging their vows in front of the picturesque fountain directly alongside the water, the grooms chose to move their ceremony into a cooler area of the park, shaded by lofty trees and surrounded by greenery. Topiary, sculpted into the forms of animals, provided a unique and magical backdrop.
“Our friends threw rose petals along the pathway where we walked,” Jonathan describes. “And my sister had planned to bring her violin -she’s a violin professor at MSU- but she forgot it!”
“But we had the birds singing. And our friends… and a wonderful officiant. It was really a very sweet ceremony,” Derek says.
The wedding included a Navajo Prayer, contemplative breathing and their personalized vows, which began with the Four Agreements from the Toltec wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz: speak with integrity and be impeccable with your word; refuse to take anything personally; communicate with utter clarity so as to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings; always do your best and you will remain forever free from regret.
It was a simple, intentional celebration. Afterward the small party gathered for lunch at a nearby restaurant, then ventured to a casino in Detroit to relax and enjoy the day together. Later, van brimming once again, they headed back to the house of Jonathan’s sister for a casual dinner.
Three months later, in September, the newlyweds held a reception back in Madison. “Since we couldn’t invite everybody on a road trip to the wedding,” Derek says playfully. “…Ten different personalities in a van… There were no really huge fights on that trip, so it worked out well!”
“The reception turned out terrific,” Jonathan explains. “We had our local food co-op make the dinner, and the food and the chocolate were just fantastic. A friend of mine led the Israeli Dances. My parents were there, and they were very accepting although they were also kind of overwhelmed: so many people were at our reception, including many who’d known me and Derek all these years… Plus some of our friends are really outgoing.”
“There were 200 guests!” Derek exclaims. “Despite the fact that it had rained all summer, and our reception was held outdoors and the bugs were just terrible. Two hundred people joined us and it was really a great party.”
Visions of Tuscany were on their minds, but Jonathan and Derek chose to postpone their honeymoon for nearly a year after the wedding day. The extra time provided an opportunity for extra saving, which was helpful as Derek and Jonathan had recently purchased their first home together. “And we still hope to get to Tuscany one day,” Jonathan says. “Well, maybe now with the economy it will have to be Costa Rica… But we did go on a really beautiful trip to Madeline Island for our honeymoon.”
About a year after their ceremony, the couple camped that first night on the pristine little island in Northern Wisconsin, on Lake Superior. The next morning, driving into town, they came upon a dog standing right in the middle of the road. Concerned, Jonathan stopped the car and knocked on the door of the house nearby. “The woman there told me it was her neighbor’s dog, and that it very unusual for him to go into the road…” As it turned out, the coincidental meeting led to greater things. “The woman then plainly asked me, ‘Are you two gay?’” Jonathan remembers. “I told her, ‘Yes, we just got married.’”
He continues, “She was an older lesbian, and she actually had a couple friends in Madison who are our friends too… She became our tour guide then for most of our trip. She introduced us to everyone; lots of artists. That’s the kind of vacation I like. The local people were just so welcoming.”
Life as a Couple…
Jonathan, a yoga instructor and consultant, finds it easy to share with others the story of his relationship. “Being in Madison,” he says, “I’ve always experienced people being happy that we’re married. People seem comfortable. It’s a university town and it’s very progressive. There’s a real history of openness and acceptance.”
After their ceremony, Derek didn’t always feel compelled to talk much about it to co-workers. “Sometimes,” he says, “I just didn’t want the trouble of explaining.” On other occasions, however, he recalls telling those who were curious, “I went to Canada…” emphasizing it with a certain look. “Then I’d walk away and let them figure it out,” he chuckles. “Though somebody did tell my boss and he congratulated me.”
At present, the governor of Wisconsin has said that he plans to pass domestic partnership legislation, though Jonathan isn’t sure. “It’s a tough year for it, because our state has a large deficit and Wisconsin is required to have a balanced budget.”
“Some people at work,” Derek continues, “grumble about the cost they foresee with domestic partnership benefits. But there have been some newspaper articles about it recently, and some really sad stories. We’re hopeful it will pass; we look forward to that.”
Currently Derek works on behalf of people with disabilities. “But I don’t work with people really,” he explains. “I see them on a computer. So I’m considering getting a teaching degree at this point.”
“Derek is a very sincere person,” Jonathan pipes. “He has a very good heart. When we met, I was really interested in his interests in social justice and ending racism. He has an African Studies degree. I’ve always looked forward to the volunteer work we’d do some day, and now we’re very involved with our neighborhood. He really cares for people.”
It was Derek, recently, who prodded their investment in a new home. The farmhouse is filled with lots of rooms, ideal for the family the couple is now beginning to dream about. Jonathan has been transforming his business into a non-profit, and has begun working not only with hospitals but also as a consultant for teachers, in bringing yoga into the classrooms. “As a couple we’ve been searching for stability,” he remarks. “And I honestly think we bring that to each other. Buying this house was a brilliant idea of Derek’s actually; and it would be so hard for me to have my own business without his support.”
He is certain that choosing to marry, and to solidify their relationship through that rite, was particularly meaningful for his partner.
Derek agrees. “You’re bringing two lives together and forging a new path,” he says. “When I was a kid, or coming out... I wasn’t sure if I would ever get married... I wasn’t sure it would happen in my lifetime. I thought I might have to move to Spain or Holland or something. So, yeah, I think it really does make my life complete.”
He recalls a conversation with someone, shortly after the wedding, who told him that the marriage wasn’t legal; it didn’t mean anything.
“’It means something to me!’” Derek remembers his counter vividly.
Jonathan offers further reassurance to his husband, and further insight: “It’s the meaning you bring to it,” he says. “It’s not a piece of paper either. Marriage is what’s in your heart.”