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15-year wait nearly over

Two men had rings engraved with the day they moved in together, but left space for a wedding date. Their dream comes true Tuesday.

June 16, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta | 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?

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