April 2004 (v6 i5)
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Gay shotgun marriages on the rise
Thousands of couples finally able to rush into commitment
by Elizabeth Barksdale, Associate Editor

Josh's favorite thing about Sam is his flowing hair.
NEW PALTZ, NY — Josh Berger, 19, and Sam Johannsen, 20, were recently married even though they had only been dating for three months. They are among the thousands of gay couples who have taken advantage of certain states' allowing gays to marry on a whim, something straight couples have been doing for decades.

"I was nervous before I popped the question," said Johannsen, who proposed at a local Chili's where the couple had their first date. "I knew both Josh and I have old-fashioned values about commitment, even though we're both young."

Berger happily accepted, however: "I was shocked, then thrilled when Sam got down on one knee. I didn't think twice about saying 'Yes.'"

"We told our waiter we'd just gotten engaged, and he announced it to the whole restaurant. Everyone applauded and treated us to drinks. We're under 21, so they got us those wussy little girl drinks, Shirley Temples," laughed Johannsen. "It was a great night."

Although both are students at Iowa State University juggling loans and part-time jobs, the young men used their savings to travel to New York for a modest wedding.

"It all happened so fast. I didn't even have time for a bachelor party," said Berger. Many hastily-wed couples report being worried about how to announce the marriage to friends and family. Berger and Johannsen, who opted to keep their own names, invited their parents to dinner to announce their news. "We were scared our folks were going to freak," said Johannsen.

"There was an awkward pause before we congratulated them." said Mary Berger. "My God, they're so young! Sam's wonderful - I was pleased when Josh found such a nice boyfriend. But I figured it was just puppy love."

"And I was a little hurt," continued Mrs. Berger. "I've always wanted to help my kids plan their weddings. I would've ordered big, lovely, heart-shaped ice sculptures and hired a mariachi band for Josh, if only he'd asked me to help," she said, her chin quivering slightly.

"But now that they're married, I can't wait to be a grandma soon!" she added, perking up. "I never expected Sammy to settle down so young," said Mark Johannsen, Sam's father.

"He's a lot like his old man, and when I was in college, I dated someone different every week!"

"Granted, I was relieved that Sam probably wasn't experimenting with crazy sex and drugs like I did when I was his age. But getting married! I was worried that they'd rushed into this too fast."

After dinner, however, Berger asked his new father-in-law for a private, "man-to-man" conversation."

"Josh seems like a sincere, hard-working boy," said Mr. Johannsen. "He told me that he plans to support my son while Sam goes to medical school. He really wants to take care of Sam - I was impressed. They might just make it."

Others are not so hopeful about their hasty marriages, however. Sylvia Dibbs, 31, married girlfriend Karen Ratherson because Ratherson was pregnant.

"I mean, I love Karen," says Dibbs, "But I think we're too different. We're already arguing about stupid things. And I'm not even really sure that the kid's mine. But it just felt like the right thing to do."

Marriage counselor Irene Neubaum says that regrets about shotgun marriages are not uncommon.

"My motto is: Everyone should get marriage counseling before they tie the knot so that it's not a knot around their necks. No one wants to be a noosely-wed!" said Neubaum.

Ronald Walsh, 65, and Stephen Yates, 67, also recently wed, are having second thoughts as well.

"Ron and I had fun dating," said Yates, "but now that we're living together, he's irritating the hell out of me. He hogs the bathroom and the remote, and we never go out anymore."

Walsh and Yates are afraid what their friends would say if they split up.

"We're the 'It' couple right now," said Walsh. "All our widowed friends think it's great that we found love later in life. We'd ruin that ideal for them if we divorced. And besides, most of them are pretty conservative. There'd be talk if I moved out, I just know it."
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