Mario Clopton wanted it to be perfect. So as he was preparing to propose to his boyfriend, Ryan Zymler, he asked the person who knows Ryan best for advice: his older sister, Meredith. "Just keep going," she advised.
Mario had been saving money for a ring since their one-year anniversary and was determined to take the next step. So under the guise of his 28th birthday celebration, Mario made reservations at the Fairmount for June 5. They'd shared their first date there three years ago after meeting on Match.com.
"Our first date went really well," says Ryan, the 26-year-old community relations coordinator at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. "We had our first kiss in the parking lot."
As they drove to the martini bar in Cleveland Heights, Mario, the director of choirs for Shaker Heights High School, put on a playlist of special songs from throughout their relationship. But Ryan turned it off. "Do you have any songs that aren't from two years ago?" he asked.
Still, Mario persisted. They stopped in the parking lot to briefly relive their first kiss when Mario grabbed Ryan's forearms. He had a question to ask.
"Oh, my God, no, what are you doing?' Ryan asked. But Mario didn't hear him. Instead, he plowed through his proposal, telling Ryan that he didn't care if they couldn't get married in Ohio. He was in love. It was time they honored that together. They'd lived in two apartments, raised a 2 1/2-year-old pit bull-Lab mix together, challenged each other and grown into bright young professionals.
"In that one-knee-down-on-the-floor moment, that person has your entire future in their hand," Mario recalls. Ryan said yes right away, and family and friends joined them that night to celebrate the good news.
Now the couple is in the midst of planning for an October 2016 wedding.
"Marriage, as people paint it, is just a celebration of love," says Ryan. "It's about us putting our belongings together and our lives together. You can't say that one person is doing that more correctly than another person or that certain people shouldn't have those same rights."