A union of soulmates

The legalization of same-sex marriage allowed this longtime couple to marry

Victor Robin (left) and Kelly Houston wed—under a glowing Hamm’s sign at Duffy’s Tavern—after nearly four decades together.

Victor Robin (left) and Kelly Houston wed—under a glowing Hamm’s sign at Duffy’s Tavern—after nearly four decades together.

In 1974, Kelly Houston and Victor Robin got to know each other on Friday nights over drinks at a Santa Cruz gay bar called Mona’s Gorilla Lounge and listening to old jazz and big-band 78-speed records in Robin’s apartment. Their meetings were essentially chaperoned by mutual friends until Robin’s 22nd birthday, the day both men realized they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

Robin recalled that his father sensed it was a perfect match even before he himself realized it: “After the first time my dad met Kelly, he told me, ‘Victor, I think you’ve found your soulmate.’”

Houston, then 26, had moved to Santa Cruz after a stint in the army to pursue his passions for acting and singing. Robin was a musician and folk dancer, and both were immersed in the free-wheeling, artistic atmosphere of post-’60s Santa Cruz. It was the first serious relationship for both men, a relationship finally fully legally recognized 39 years later when the U.S. Supreme Court supported a lower court’s ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage—Proposition 8, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act—is unconstitutional.

On Dec. 9, the couple were married beneath the Hamm’s sign at Duffy’s Tavern, their favored watering hole since moving to Chico in 2005. Duffy’s owner Roger Montalbano, who is an ordained minister, oversaw the ceremony, the whole of which included one line and a handshake.

“I wrote the ceremony that morning,” Houston said. “Roger asked, ‘Do you, Kelly, and you, Victor, agree to take each other for all you’re worth?’ We both said, ‘Deal,’ shook hands, and he pronounced us legally married.”

After nearly four decades together, the men said the main reason to marry was to ensure federal marriage benefits. But still, it was a moment they never expected could happen in their lifetimes.

“I sometimes imagine a black Rip Van Winkle waking up today and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh! We’ve got a black president, same-sex marriage is going on, and white folks are singing the blues!’”

A hot topic since the legalization of same-sex unions has been the positive effects on the already multimillion-dollar wedding industry.

It’s hard to tell just how same-sex marriage has caught on in Butte County because, as County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs explained, statistics are not recorded: “When two people come in, our staff just issues them marriage licenses, so there’s really no way of knowing how many marriages are between same-sex partners.”

Several local wedding vendors said they’ve yet to see a substantial boom in same-sex ceremonies.

“I haven’t seen much of a spike in same-sex marriages locally, but I sure hope we do, not just from the business standpoint but for the social-justice aspect,” said Steve Twist of Avalon Portraits, a company specializing in wedding photography. “But there have certainly been more same-sex marriages and commitment ceremonies in the last two years than ever before, and I think we could see an enormous jump in coming months, as wedding season hits.”

Lisa Holeman, who owns a local wedding officiant service called As You Like It Weddings, said her company handled same-sex commitment ceremonies before marriages were allowed, and that legalization has “been a long time coming.” She also said it presents a challenge to the entire industry.

“A lot of advertising, public relations and logos are designed to represent traditional male-female weddings, but wedding services, myself included, would be doing themselves and that community a favor by changing that status quo,” she said.

Holeman also said not all of her contemporaries are happy with the change: “I’ve heard some people say, ‘Well, we won’t do those kinds of weddings.’

“I think most people like that just haven’t been exposed to actual same-sex relationship,” she continued. “It’s just a concept to them that they don’t fully understand because they’ve never known any same-sex couples personally to see they’re beautiful, just like traditional relationships.”