Stephen Chavez and his fiancé Art Rodriguez cannot wait to get married. The couple have been together for over three years and share a home on Main Street and Fremont Avenue with their dogs Pork Chop and Chubby. Deep into planning for their fall wedding, Chavez, 46, a food marketing and public relations consultant, and Rodriguez, 33, a chef, are whittling down their guest list and looking at local venues. The Spirit House's rooftop bar in Monterey Park is at the top of their list.
The Supreme Court's landmark ruling last week to uphold a California court's ban on Proposition 8 means that Chavez and Rodriguez can now legally get married in their home state. Chavez sat down with Alhambra Source to talk about his joy and disappointment over the Supreme Court's ruling, what Alhambra can do to make gay citizens feel safer, and how he and Art bonded over their passion for food.
How did you and Art meet?
We met at a bar in Silver Lake. When we met each other we realized we both had this great passion for food. Our initial dates were always "Where are we going to go eat next?" We're both chubby boys, so it was natural for us to build our social circle around food. We love creating new recipes together, we even run a food blog called Latino Foodie that features recipes and cultural trends in Latin American food. It's just a great time.
Who popped the question?
He proposed to me last year. Our birthdays are on March 18 and 19 and we were having a big party. We had close to about 80 people coming to the house, and I'm busy in the kitchen trying to get ready. And all of a sudden, he snuggles up with me and next thing I know he's bringing out this little ring box. He starts crying and proposed to me. He couldn't contain himself. He wanted to do it during the party but he was super excited and he figured, what better place than in the kitchen? That seems to be the heart of our love and passion.
Gay marriage was not legal in California when Art proposed. How did that affect your plans?
We had discussions: "Should we go to Iowa? Or other states where it is legal? What does it mean to us?"
Marrying the person I love seems like such a fundamental freedom. It was just a matter of some basic fairness. And talking with my family, my cousins were kind of on the fence with it. They loved us, but weren't sure about the marriage part of it. I had to explain to them: Art and I want to marry each other for very similar reasons why you married your husband or your wife. We want to make a vow of love and a lifetime commitment to each other. How does that harm you in any way? Why wouldn't you support that?
Many have criticized the Supreme Court and said it evaded the bigger issue of gay marriage by dismissing the Prop 8 case. How did you feel about the decision?
We were ecstatic, but it would have been wonderful if they had more of a sweeping ruling, making gay marriage a right across the United States. I think the nation is ready. We should not deny this right to gay people. I think that the Supreme Court unfortunately took the easy way out.
Freedom means freedom for everyone. Like our straight brothers, sisters, coworkers, and neighbors, the gay community has fought for our freedom through the military, but also through being teachers, doctors, artists, professionals, and giving back to the community in so many ways. We cannot be seen as second-class citizens. Hopefully with the Supreme Court's decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, that will change and people will become more open and appreciative of all the contributions from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Do you feel safe in Alhambra?
When you're a gay person in love, and you're hearing things that are very hurtful, quite honestly, you get scared. You get worried. You get fearful for other gay people living in communities that are not as tolerant as Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco.
But even here in Alhambra, you'll be at a bar and you'll be listening to some old men talking, and they're definitely homophobic. Definitely not pro-gay marriage, and it's hard on me to hear it in my own neighborhood, in my own backyard.
I've lived here probably a little over 10 years now. I still feel like I need to play it straight if I go to some of the bars along Main Street. I'm not going to be there making out with my fiancé. I may hold his hand, but it may be underneath the table or in a crowd where no one can really see.
What do you think the city can do to reach out to gay and lesbian residents and make them feel safer?
Gay Pride parades down Main Street! (laughs) I do think the city could do something around Pride Month in June. We celebrate things like Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific Islander Month. We even celebrate National Hamburger Day in America. I think the city should demonstrate leadership and commitment to all people during Pride Month so youth, parents, and even the seniors will see.
I'm sure there will be a lot of push back. But I think we have the leadership here in the city to be able to demonstrate that we are committed to diversity and we celebrate persons of all backgrounds. To say, "Whether you're Chinese, Latino, or LGBT: We acknowledge you, you live in our community, and we're proud of you."
Interview was edited and condensed.