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Relationships with Grandmothers (and God) Drew Them Closer

Aaron Jay Ledesma knew that Timothy-Keith Schau Earley would one day be his husband on their fourth date.

Mr. Earley, who goes by Tim, had cooked for Mr. Ledesma for the first time that evening, in June 2015, serving one of his specialties, shepherd’s pie. After dinner, the two snuggled on the couch with Mr. Earley’s mixed-breed dog, Sullivan, and shared their first kiss.

“I felt the safest I’d ever felt, and the most comfortable,” Mr. Ledesma said. “I knew it was exactly what I wanted my life to be.”

The couple met earlier that month on the dating app Tinder. On their first date, at the Hill Café, in Richmond, Va., where the two live, they spoke a lot about their families and bonded over the fact that “we’re both grandma’s boys,” said Mr. Ledesma, who considered his late maternal grandmother, Lorraine MacDougall, known in the family as Glamma Sandy, his best friend.

This resonated with Mr. Earley; as a teenager, he helped his parents care for his maternal grandmother Anita Schau, known as Grandma Neets, before she died in 2007. So formative was that experience that it influenced his decision to pursue nursing as a career.

That night, they sat on a Libby Hill Park bench and talked for another two hours. Mr. Earley said he envisioned marriage and children in his future. It was a vision that Mr. Ledesma shared.

“We were on exactly the same page,” said Mr. Ledesma. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve known I wanted to be a dad. It’s my life’s purpose.”

On their second date, at the Barker Field dog park in Richmond, Mr. Ledesma’s redbone coonhound, Sami, met Sullivan.

An even bigger milestone occurred at their three-month dating mark, when the two men, both Catholic, were among the thousands present at the White House on Sept. 23, 2015, for the visit of Pope Francis.

Not long before that, Mr. Ledesma had started a blog called the Gay Catholic, hosted by Medium, for which he wrote about reconciling his sexuality with his faith. He said he created the blog for a younger version of himself: a 12-year-old Catholic boy who knew he was gay, but was too afraid to tell anyone.

A student of Catholic schools from pre-K through college, Mr. Ledesma, 29, came out in his junior year of college. He said that hearing Pope Francis in 2013 say “Who am I to judge?” of the L.G.B.T.Q. community signaled what Mr. Ledesma saw as a new openness to those who identify as both gay and Catholic. But the next year, after he moved to Richmond, Mr. Ledesma said he stopped attending church for no specific reason.

Mr. Earley, 32, had stopped attending by that time, too. He did not go to Catholic schools, but said that the church was a big part of his life growing up. “I felt excluded, that I wasn’t fully accepted there,” said Mr. Earley, who started to come out to some people when he was in college, but did not come out to his parents until after meeting Mr. Ledesma.

When Mr. Ledesma heard that Pope Francis was coming to Washington, though, he wrote to the Obama White House through its website. “I would be honored to be in the presence of two leaders who acknowledge and accept who I am,” Mr. Ledesma’s message read.

“The church is evolving,” said Mr. Ledesma, who resumed attending services in 2015. “Not at the speed I would like, but I can’t give up on it.”

Raised in Houston, Mr. Ledesma is the younger of two children of Robert Ledesma, a retired supply manager at Shell Oil, and Patti McNeil, the admissions coordinator at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, Mr. Ledesma’s alma mater. (His parents divorced and then were granted an annulment from the church.)

A graduate of Marquette University, Mr. Ledesma works as the visual content marketing specialist at The Steward School in Richmond. He also has a photography business, Aaron Jay Photography, which specializes in family and couple portraiture.

Mr. Earley was raised in Chesterfield, Va. He is the younger of two children of Scott Earley, a career officer at the Chesterfield County Police Department, and Peggy Earley, a receptionist, both of whom have since retired to Murrells Inlet, S.C.

Licensed as a family nurse practitioner, Mr. Earley has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Until recently, he worked as a clinical coordinator at the Evans-Haynes Burn Center at VCU Health in Richmond. He will soon be a nurse practitioner at the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Chippenham Hospital in Richmond.

Playing a role in the recovery of burn patients who are so close to death, Mr. Earley said, “has given me a more rewarding career than I ever could have imagined.”

Mr. Ledesma added, “I see how Tim makes an impact in the work he does. We’ve both come from humble beginnings and were raised to make an impact in the world.”

Mr. Earley described Mr. Ledesma as extroverted and himself introverted, citing Mr. Ledesma’s self-assuredness about belonging to the Catholic Church as an attractive quality. “It was a little sliver of the pie as to why I fell in love with him,” Mr. Earley said.

Both men added that they knew bringing home a fellow Catholic would delight their parents, who also had plenty in common, including a suspicion that their sons were gay long before they came out. After praying about their shared suspicion for years, both men’s parents said that they arrived at the same conclusion: they would love their sons no matter what.

“We are both devout Catholics who share the understanding that our job is to love our children unconditionally and make sure they know God,” said Mrs. McNeil, speaking about herself and Mr. Ledesma’s father as well as Mr. Earley’s parents. “I can’t imagine how hurtful it would be to have your own immediate family turn against you because of religion.”

The couple’s relationship with each other and their faith deepened in February 2019 when, shortly after Mr. Ledesma threw a 30th birthday party for Mr. Earley, Mr. Ledesma’s paternal uncle died and the two flew to Corpus Christi, Texas. The ensuing funeral rites, Mr. Earley said, awakened something in him and left him yearning to return to the church.

Soon after, they learned of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Glen Allen, Va. Casually known as St. Mike’s, it has a ministry specifically for members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Upon attending St. Mike’s, Mr. Earley said, “That was just it for me. It was the most affirming moment in adulthood for what a religious life could be.”

The trip to Texas also awakened something in Mr. Ledesma, who said seeing how well Mr. Earley handled being around his extended, grieving family made him feel it was time to propose. That March, while visiting Mr. Earley’s family in South Carolina, Mr. Ledesma asked the Earleys for their blessing to marry their son.

Mrs. Earley later offered Mr. Ledesma her parents’ wedding rings. “Tim and my mother had a very special bond,” she said.

Mr. Ledesma proposed in June 2019 at the Hill Café, just before the two celebrated their fourth anniversary as a couple. When Mr. Ledesma dropped to one knee, he told Mr. Earley, “This was your grandmother’s ring.” Mr. Earley burst into tears. (After resizing, Mr. Earley wears his grandfather’s ring and Mr. Ledesma, Mr. Earley’s grandmother’s ring.)

As they started to plan a wedding, one of their first decisions was that Mr. Ledesma’s Glamma Sandy would officiate. But she died in June 2020, before she could fulfill their wish. As she was dying, Mr. Ledesma said that Mr. Earley was a comforting presence to both him and his grandmother.

“As I was losing my best friend, I got to see my soul mate take really good care of her and help her transition,” Mr. Ledesma said. “It was bittersweet.”

Their Oct. 23 wedding at Richmond’s Historic Mankin Mansion, a private estate turned events venue, was instead officiated by Majel Stein, a friend of the couple, who was authorized a civil celebrant by the Henrico County Circuit Court. The grooms were escorted to the altar by their mothers and, before the ceremony, the men exchanged and read letters each had written to the other.

Acknowledging those who fought to make marriage equality possible, Ms. Stein began by saying, “Tim and Aaron recognize that they stand on the shoulders of those men and women who fought so they could be standing here today.”

In pronouncing them married, she also nodded to their faith. “Now, by the authority vested in me by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and by the still higher authority of a loving God, I pronounce you husband and husband,” Ms. Stein said. “What God has joined, let no one put asunder.”

The couple, who will both take the surname Earley-Ledesma, later held a reception at the venue for their 149 guests, most of whom were fully vaccinated. In remarks, they thanked attendees for coming and spoke of their hopes to adopt a child someday soon. In lieu of a registry, they set up a fund with Adopt Together, a crowdfunding website that focuses on adoptions, to help them with fees.

Besides the grooms, the people most looking forward to that, of course, are their mothers.

“I am so excited for them to have children,” said Mrs. McNeil.


When Oct. 23, 2021

Where The Historic Mankin Mansion, a restored Georgian Revival estate that was once the home of the brick manufacturer Edward Thurston Mankin, in Richmond.

Sami and Sullivan The signature cocktails served at the reception, Sami (an old fashioned) and Sullivan (a Moscow mule), were named after the grooms’ dogs.

Ending With a Bang Guests were surprised with fireworks at the end of the evening, a common feature of weddings at the mansion. The display was set to Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).”

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