When the Supreme Court issued its historic rulings for gay rights on June 26, 2013 — invalidating California’s Proposition 8 and striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act — Rev. Thomas Anastasi, the minister of Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta, was in West Hollywood. When the verdicts were issued, Anastasi said, “massive instantaneous celebration” broke out in the area, with prominent impromptu political support from the mayors of West Hollywood and Los Angeles and even Governor Jerry Brown. And when Anastasi received calls shortly thereafter from members of his church saying, “Okay, we’re ready,” he and his longtime partner, Robert Holler, decided that August 3, 2013, would be the perfect date for their wedding.
It was on that day — 32 years prior, in 1981 — that Anastasi, then a traveling musician, met Holler in a small town in Pennsylvania, and they became a couple. Before making Santa Barbara their home in 2012, Holler and Anastasi traveled around the country until 1984, when they headed to Berkeley so that Anastasi could attend seminary school. From there, they made their way to Seattle, where Anastasi — today an interim minister at Live Oak — led a parish for 20 years. When support for gay marriage failed to gain traction in Washington State, Anastasi, 66, decided he would no longer perform weddings until he could participate in his own. But since marrying Holler last year, Anastasi said, “My sign is out now.”
They were married on a Saturday afternoon at Live Oak; their wedding was not only the first in the church’s new sanctuary but also the first legal same-sex marriage of a clergy person in the area. (Rev. Mark Asman, of Trinity Episcopal Church, married his partner, William Wood, in a religious ceremony in 2011; they wed again on August 11, 2013.) The church’s members handled most of the planning, decorating with rainbow flags and ribbons around the silverware and organizing a potluck after the ceremony. About 120 people attended, including church members, Anastasi’s children and grandchildren, and Holler’s brother. They honeymooned in Monterey and Big Sur.
“There was so much love in the air,” said Holler, who fell ill in early 2013 and, as a result, couldn’t walk. But with some help from his physical therapist, he was able to make it down the aisle. “When we finally got up there, people just started applauding,” Anastasi said. “It was like, ‘They made it; they finally got to the altar.’ It was a very symbolic act.”
“It took me a while to believe it — that the state of California would even do such a thing, let alone the federal government,” said Holler, 68. “It was quite an experience. I think I’m still getting used to it.” Anastasi agreed, saying that he grew up in an age — in Tennessee, no less — when same-sex love was “not on the radar.”
But times are changing for the better, they said, with Anastasi adding that he hopes their wedding can inspire gay teenagers and young adults who may feel scared of how society will receive them. “To see these old guys get married — this is a vision of what can be,” Anastasi said. “I would love for that to be what our wedding means: something to give younger kids a sense of hope of who they are and how they can make it if they just hold on.”