WASHINGTON — They met before marriage equality was even a topic of discussion, but as of Christmas Day, Rep. Sean Maloney is engaged to his longtime partner, Randy Florke.
Talking to BuzzFeed Monday, the couple said the engagement has been a long time coming, but was pushed ahead by the desire of their children — Jesus, Daley, and Essie — to see their parents marry.
"When you're our age, and you've been together as long as we have, you know what your relationship is and you don't consider it something less than someone else's," Maloney said of their 21-year relationship. "In the eyes of young children, it matters that you're married. It means something to them and so we saw that through their eyes. ... [M]y youngest had asked for this in a note to Santa Claus, which was a complete coincidence, and so it was a pretty emotional experience all around."
Of their engagement, the New York congressman said of their three children, "They were emotional about it; it touched us, really, more than I can tell you."
On Christmas morning, it was Florke who did the proposing.
"Everyone would assume that he would be the one that would do it, but, if you really know Sean, there probably wasn't a chance in hell he would have done it," Florke said.
Talking about the morning, Maloney said, "When we finished opening our presents, Randy just sort of disappeared from the room for a minute and then came back in, and I noticed that my oldest was filming on his camera — but it didn't, even then I didn't figure it out."
Then, Florke took over: "I gave him a bag for Christmas, a suitcase to match our other bag, and it was a really obvious bag when he saw the label. So, I said, 'I'm giving you a really obvious gift. It's a suitcase, but it comes with a proposal: I want to know if you will travel with me forever and marry me.' I think his first words were, 'Oh, Jesus.' But, then, of course, he's like, 'Yes.'"
Of the time — and changes — that their relationship has covered, Maloney said, "It makes you believe in your country to watch what's possible when people work and organize and fight for their rights. And it's extremely gratifying to know that the system still can work at delivering equal rights to people — even if it takes too long, even if it shouldn't be this hard. On a personal level, it's interesting when you've been in love with someone for 21 years and your country finally catches up to you — in saying, 'It's OK with us, too.'"
Even after all that time, there are wedding jitters, Florke insisted, saying, "There is a little fear inside, 'Is this going to change our relationship?' We have a pretty good relationship, and it may not be 100% traditional, I don't know, but it works for us. So, there is a fear factor of that changing. But, outweighing that was the desire to make it happen."
Additionally, Florke said he's most looking forward to his children's reaction at their wedding.
"I don't understand it, I have to be fully honest, why it matters so much to them," he said. "They don't know anything different, we've been together, we've been in an incredibly stable relationship their entire lives. Why does marriage matter so much to them? But there's something about us not being married that there's a piece missing for them, a little bit of insecurity. They know that it's less than what their friends' relationships are. I'm not smart enough to explain it, but it matters to them."
As Maloney returned to Washington, the Obama administration was looking at — and this past week decided it would recognize — the marriages of same-sex couples in Utah, currently unrecognized by Utah officials.
"It's a funny thing, equality can take a long time to arrive, but, when it gets here, it becomes impatient," Maloney said of the response to the Utah case. "I think you will see this issue continue to move with enormous speed, and not just in the blue states but in all the states because the Supreme Court's decision on this will lead, inevitably, to full equality everywhere — and it will happen sooner than anyone thinks. The situation in Utah is a preview of coming attractions. You're going to see this happen everywhere."
Among those who are now impatient are Maloney and Florke, who plan to marry in "early summer," the congressman said. "Twenty-one years seems to be long enough to wait."