By Anna Lothson
They're your typical couple, regardless of the law on the books in Illinois.
Max Williams and Rob Austin met online, started talking, continued talking and set up time for a date. A few months went by and things spiraled; they fell in love — that was all they needed to know what was next.
They had a dog, an apartment, and were nearing that age where most think of settling down. The two men, both self-proclaimed traditionalists, knew what they wanted: marriage. Max and Rob weren't trying to prove a point about their relationship, they say. They simply were in love.
And so the Austin-Williams family was created.
Williams, 28, the Downtown Oak Park executive director for the past year and Austin, 27, married in May on a Michigan beach where Austin's family had vacationed for years. Sure, neither the state of Michigan or Illinois would recognize the marriage as it would a straight couple. But this never mattered to them.
"It was the next logical step," Rob said. "It was important to have that public ceremony like anyone else would, and to do that before our friends and family and God was important."
The couple knew early on in the relationship that they had found the man they wanted. They were committed and loved each other. Just like anyone else, they joke about being that regular boring old couple.
"That's it," Max said, describing the moment he knew Rob was the one for him. "It was never a political thing."
Coincidently at the time the couple got engaged, Illinois made headway with its civil union bill and it appeared the marriage track was next for lawmakers. That momentum toward marriage equality has halted, but their plans didn't. The couple was already engaged as Rob surprised Max with a candle lit apartment one night followed by a party with their friends and family.
"Someone may tell us we're the non-traditional version of [marriage] but we want to subscribe to the most traditional aspect of it," Rob said.
"We're both very traditional in the sense of marriage in the sense that if two people love each other and are committed, that's it," Max injected. "I knew very early on. …we couldn't wait to get married."
They do eventually hope Illinois and the rest of the country recognizes their marriage in an equal manner, but are content until that happens. They've had their share of curious questions about if they have an official marriage license, but are able to laugh off any seemingly odd questions.
"It's a funny construct…Because our parents aren't together because a legal document tells them they are," Rob said. "They love each other…So I would never ask someone else that."
Love, for them, has no need to be defined. It simply is. The public declaration, embraced by people they love and who love them, was the only step they needed.
"Hopefully it will be the step toward the next normal," Rob said. "Hopefully we don't have to make a statement about it."
"We're actually quite boring. We're delightfully boring I would say," Max joked. They both have the "old man" mindset and knew the concept of "settling down" would hit quickly once they found that person.
Their first date was a four-and-a-half hour dinner where they closed the restaurant down. It pretty much matured from there.
"It was like I was growing up to settle down," Rob said. Max agreed.
As they took their next steps toward planning a wedding, they followed the typical process. They got a wedding planning book, booked a location, arranged for their pastor to conduct the ceremony, and invited about 120 of their family and friends to join them on the beach for the best day of their lives.
A few traditions were different. There were no engagement rings; instead the couple had engagement watches. There was no center aisle, they had two aisles and met together with their family at the end. And there was no bridal party.
In fact, Max's mom coined the term the "groomale party."
Their wedding was a three-day experience, with most guests staying on site at the Watervale Inn in Arcadia, Michigan, a quaint spot near Lake Michigan that gave the couple the serene setting they desired. Beforehand, they met with their pastor about what was important in their relationship and how they worked as a couple. This inspired their wedding weekend.
"We're all about community and making people feel welcome," Rob said. "It was really a sense of community that culminated with a ceremony about starting a new life together."
That life started with the perfect venue, the perfect band, and what everyone hopes for that day: that person to share those vows with. Marriage didn't change their relationship, Max said, but it did help give a new sense of who they are together.
"It's delightfully the same. …But being married gives me at least that phenomenal sense of continuity and even clarity. It's wonderful knowing I'm coming home to the same person for the rest of my life," he said. "I just feel like it has translated to my career. It's translated into our friendships and our family. It's just a sense of calm….it really does feel like it's a completion of something."
For now, they've got two-and-half years together, about four months of marriage in the books, and are your everyday happy newlywed couple. So, what's next?
"We definitely want kids," Max said. "At least one or two."