MaryAnn Brancaccio and Maria Vanni will celebrate their 40th anniversary Aug. 25 — and this year will do so as a married couple.
The South Philadelphia residents met through a mutual friend, whom Vanni was dating at the time, but Brancaccio gave her her phone number anyway and they reconnected a year later.
“She met me for five minutes and said I was the cockiest person she ever met, but that’s just part of my charm,” Brancaccio joked. “But she called me, and the rest is history.”
In 2003, after separate careers in the restaurant industry, Brancaccio, 62, and Vanni, 55, opened East Passyunk restaurant August — named after their anniversary month.
“We love being able to spend time together,” Vanni said, noting that opening a business together afforded them ample opportunity to do so.
The couple exchanged rings on their 25th anniversary but never had an actual ceremony since Pennsylvania wouldn’t recognize the union. When the opportunity in New York arose, however, they decided to take the plunge to coincide with their upcoming anniversary.
Earlier this month they put their names into the lottery that was opened for couples to get married in New York City on July 24, the first day marriage equality was legalized, and received a call Thursday night that they were one of the approximately 800 couples randomly selected.
The Manhattan slate was full, so Brancaccio and Vanni elected to get married in Queens. The couple brought along Vanni’s goddaughter and another friend to serve as witnesses and used their bands from their 25th anniversary.
“We didn’t have much time to get ready, but we held it together,” Vanni said.
Brancaccio and Vanni weren’t alone in the time crunch.
Jim Kelly-Evans and husband Dan Evans also found out Thursday night they’d been selected for the lottery but, with the city clerk warning of long outdoor waits in the blistering heat, the couple instead called around and grabbed up one of the last two slots at the Brookhaven clerk’s office on Long Island.
Within a day, the couple, who splits their time between their homes in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section and Fire Island in New York, planned a reception, sent out invitations and organized their five-member wedding party.
The cooperation needed for the quick planning is something the couple has developed throughout their 28 years together.
“It’s been communicating with each and other and just being very open with each other,” Evans said of the key to their successful relationship.
Evans, 67, and Kelly-Evans, 62, met at a housewarming party in 1983 and went on their first date, to More Than Just Ice Cream, that night after the party.
Evans lived on Long Island at the time of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and noted that the 1980s were a time of growing momentum for the community, but also one marred by the AIDS scourge.
“I think our coupling provided sanctuary for us because we had this feeling of safety and comfort of our relationship and support to get us through those very difficult times,” Kelly-Evans added.
The pair was among the first to register as domestic partners when Philadelphia opened its registry in the mid-’90s, although that was mostly symbolic, since neither Evans, an artist and professor at Community College of Philadelphia, nor Kelly-Evans, a retired hardhat worker, were city employees.
Like Brancaccio and Vanni, they resisted getting married in another state but Kelly-Evans said that New York’s proximity to Pennsylvania and the considerable time they spend there made the Empire State’s recent marriage-equality victory a “horse of a different color.”
After tying the knot, Evans and Kelly-Evans took a ferry back from Brookhaven to Cherry Grove on Fire Island, where they welcomed about 40 guests for a reception at their home and later went out to dinner with their wedding party.
The couple said they were impressed with the graciousness of the judges and other court officials, a sentiment Brancaccio said she and Vanni also shared.
“All of the judges and everyone there seemed so genuinely happy for everyone,” she said. “The judge asked if we wanted him to say the short ceremony, and then he said, ‘Nah, you’ve been together for 40 years, you’re getting the long one.’ And throughout it our friends were crying, and we were crying. It was just really moving and really special.”
Brancaccio and Vanni celebrated their marriage with their guests at a large public reception at the LGBT community center in Greenwich Village.
While Vanni said her own relationship with Brancaccio won’t be changed much by their new marriage license, the social impact of marriage equality in New York will be momentous.
“I don’t personally feel any different but I feel like things have certainly changed in the world. I don’t think it’ll change too much for us, but it was great to be a part of that day because I think that day is going to make a real difference.”
Already, opponents of marriage equality have filed suit to overturn the new law in New York.
“Gay people are really in a war for equality and we lose some battles and we win some battles, and we won one in New York,” Kelly-Evans said. “It’s important when you win to celebrate that victory and affirm it through actions that move the ball forward on equality. And standing in front of the judge and reciting the words of love that my partner and I exchange normally, but this time in a legal context in front of a judge, boy, that felt like the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.