It’s official: Gov. Jared Polis is a married man.
Polis and his long-time partner Marlon Reis tied the knot Wednesday at the University of Colorado in a traditional Jewish ceremony. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, of Congregation Nevei Kodesh in Boulder, officiated. The couple’s daughter served as the flower girl and their son was the ring bearer.
“We just thought we would have a small gathering: family, a few close friends, just keep it very intimate, but still have something that was meaningful to us and our nuclear families,” Polis told CPR News.
Polis is the first openly gay man elected governor in the U.S., after being the first openly gay man elected to the U.S. House as a non-incumbent. And he’s Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
“Over the course of Jared's career in Congress, you know, we didn't set out to be the first of anything. Things sort of happened that way,” said his husband, Reis.
'As I was growing up, marriage was not even in the realm of possibility'
As recently as 2014, same-sex marriage was prohibited in Colorado. State lawmakers first put the prohibition in statute, and voters then went further and enshrined it in the state constitution.
That changed when federal courts started striking down gay marriage bans, beginning with a ruling in the 10th Circuit Court, followed a year later by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision.
“As I was growing up, marriage was not even in the realm of possibility,” Reis said this week. “There was a lot of misinformation out there about what could potentially happen if you came out — what opportunities would you lose? How it would negatively impact you. So for a long time, the idea of getting married, we didn't talk about it.”
Both men are now in their 40s. Gov. Polis recalls the stereotypes that came along with being gay when he was younger.
“When people thought of gay people, they thought of AIDS, unfortunately,” he said. “That was, I think, in both of our cases, our parents' first fears. They were like, ‘Oh, I hope you don't get AIDS. Be careful.’”
In the last decade, the trajectory and momentum in the fight for LGBTQ equality has changed significantly. Polis said he remembers being on the steps of the U.S Supreme Court in 2015 when gay marriage became legal across the country — when the decision came down, there was an eruption of joy and singing.
“It was just kind of a moment of pure euphoria where the system worked.”
The couple said their young children were surprised to learn there was a time when gay people couldn’t get married. Reis said he’s glad there are now more accurate representations of what it means to be gay and more freedom of self-expression.
“Groups of people that have been historically disenfranchised or looked down upon … in order to get out of that mindset, they need to be able to look out into the world and see people like themselves who are doing the things that maybe they thought they could never do,” Reis said.
The wedding happened on a significant date and at a meaningful location.
Polis and Reis picked CU-Boulder for their wedding because that’s where Reis graduated from college, and decided to hold the ceremony on a significant day for them personally: the 18th anniversary of their first date.
“We went to the Boulder Bookstore and then went to dinner,” recalled Polis.
Not long after that first date, they attended an annual sci-fi/fantasy convention in Denver.
“That was our first time where we spent, like, two days together and ensconced in science fiction and fantasy and all those great things,” said Polis, who has made it a tradition to work quotes from Star Trek and Lord of the Rings into his State of the State Addresses.
About a year and a half after meeting, the two moved in together. In those early days of their relationship, Reis said he didn’t envision a life involved in politics. Polis, a tech entrepreneur, was already serving on the Colorado Board of Education, as he worked with the e-commerce startup ProFlowers.
As for Reis, an English major, he said his plan was to go to graduate school “and either pursue teaching at a university or become a published writer. So this was an extreme departure from that.”
Reis keeps a relatively low profile in Colorado but said he grew up in a politically engaged family. He’s long been an advocate for animal welfare and has been involved in advocating for bills on the topic at the legislature.
A pandemic proposal
Polis proposed to Reis last December, while both of them were sick with COVID-19. Reis’ condition was worsening.
"I've been thinking about it for a while," the governor said. "I'd ordered the rings, with an inscription from Isaiah, and had them hidden and ready to go. And he was going off to the hospital with COVID. I mean, I knew he'd probably get better, but obviously, you never know. I thought now's a good time to give them something to remember here as we leave the house to take him to the hospital."
Polis said their seven-year-old daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the engagement and wedding.
“She was all-in on being a flower girl. She's been prancing around. She got a great dress. She's terrific.”
Their 9-year-old son is also happy, but has been more ambivalent about it all.
“Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?’” said Reis.
Reis said he explained the legal rights afforded to married couples and that it’s an “expression of the caring that you feel for one another.”
Reis called it an interesting coincidence that their wedding took place hours before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism; they wanted to incorporate as many Jewish traditions as possible into the ceremony.
Yom Kippur is a holiday of atonement and fasting — what Reis described as renouncing false vows.
“Instead we would be actually taking vows to one another, which is the ultimate vow. To be together forever, to care about each other and support one another.”
Practically speaking, Reis has been considered Colorado’s first gentleman since the governor took office, but Polis said the wedding meant the world to them.
“People could say we took 18 years to get around to it, or you could say we took six years to get around to it,” he said, counting back from the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. “But it was great to celebrate our love for one another with our family.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Polis was the first openly gay man to win an election to Congress as a non-incumbent.
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