Jim Morgan, GC’06, and Dan Stackhouse, ’98, had 27 days to plan their wedding for 50 people. They had to consider everything, from flowers and décor, to food and cake, to custom suits and invitations. Considering that many couples can spend a year or more planning their nuptials, spending less than a month is a bit of a surprise.

But everything about Morgan and Stackhouse’s wedding was a surprise to them, including how it came to be. The couple became engaged on October 6, 2014, the first day it was legal for them to marry in the state of Virginia, but hadn’t even begun to think about planning. They learned of a contest sponsored by OutRVA — a Richmond Region Tourism effort to market the Richmond area as a tolerant place for the LGBT community — and Say I Do! LGBT Wedding Expo that offered an all-expenses-paid wedding for a same-sex couple at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and entered, but never expected to win. Their expectations were so low that they didn’t even inform their families about the contest.

But then in the first week of February, Stackhouse got a call letting him know they were one of three finalist couples, and as he described it, “well shoot, now it’s kind of real!” Later that week, they were announced the winners, and after the initial excitement and phone calls had died down, they realized they had a huge task ahead of them.

Thankfully, they weren’t doing it alone. “We had so much help, amazing help,” said Stackhouse. They were paired with local Richmond vendors who assisted them with every aspect of the planning, and the entire process was documented on OutRVA’s blog.

“We have always put a little bit of trust in letting things happen,” Morgan said. “The way the wedding came together, and the way we went about it speaks a lot to the style of our relationship.” They gave their vendors some pretty basic direction, but otherwise stepped out of the way. “I think because we gave people the freedom to be creative, they gave us their absolute best,” Stackhouse said.

Their hands-off approach meant that the first time they saw all of the elements come together was when they entered Lewis Ginter’s Tea House to begin their ceremony. “When you walk in, and find that you’re suddenly in your wedding and you realize you haven’t seen this … I just had this moment where I wanted to say ‘stop the wedding’ because I wanted to take it all in. And then I realized that was not the moment to yell, ‘stop the wedding,’” Morgan said with a laugh.

“A lot of people say you’ll barely remember you wedding day, but I remember everything. I got to be fully present in the moment,” Morgan said. Stackhouse continued, “To look out and know there was so much love between us, and also there was so much love we were receiving from the crowd was amazing.”

Morgan and Stackhouse’s laidback approach to planning and their desire to be present in each moment exemplifies the couple’s 17-year relationship. It began in the summer of 1998 during a Barksdale Theatre production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show where Morgan played one of the lead roles and Stackhouse was part of the backstage running crew. Neither one can identify the actual day they became a couple, as their relationship grew so naturally during long nights of rehearsals and performances.

Having met in Richmond and having spent their entire relationship living in Richmond, getting married here was important to them. “I respect everyone who went to other states and got married,” Morgan said, “but for me, I wanted it to be here, to have meaning in my home. This city made us who we are.”

Now that they have wound down from the whirlwind of wedding planning and settled in to married life, the couple acknowledges that being married does feel different. “My favorite thing to tell people is that it’s like you’ve been used to driving a five speed car and suddenly you realize you have a sixth gear,” Morgan said.

“We had every document that you could possibly have to protect each other, but I feel like this makes that statement so much easier for people. We’re married, this is my spouse. It’s amazing how much power that word has.”

Photo by Michael Simon Photography