While working as a teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1963, George Vassos (left) met his partner, Henry Hawley, the curator of decorative arts at the Cleveland Museum of Art. After celebrating their 50th anniversary last October at their 5-acre property in Hunting Valley, the couple exchanged vows in New York City later that month.
When I was a kid, I knew I was gay, but you didn't declare yourself back then. I didn't go to the bars, because I didn't want to be seen by my students. I always had to show up with a date for concerts. At the Cleveland Institute of Music, you had to be straight. The head of my department told me that I shouldn't associate with certain people in town because they were a "queer lot." My mother was always saying, "Why don't you get married and have children?" It was difficult.
Henry and I met at the YMCA in 1963. I think we were fortunate that we were in the arts. I went to museum functions and Henry went to CIM, and everyone knew that we were together. Then I was given an ultimatum from Henry that either we move in together or it was over. It was the best thing that could have happened. We were together all of the time.
For our 50th anniversary, we had a big party at the beginning of October. When we had the party with all these people, we decided we were going to get married. I got up and sang "When I Fall In Love" by Victor Young. There were about 80 or 90 people, the place was filled. And then on Oct. 25, we went to New York and got married at City Hall.
I never thought I'd get married, but all of our friends were getting married, and I thought it was really time now that all of the states are falling in line. I think it's fabulous. It legalizes a relationship that wasn't recognized before. It gives you a certain security. You feel like you're everybody else, that you have some rights and that the government recognizes you even if the state doesn't — and eventually the state will fall. — as told to James Bigley II