James Maniakas wasn’t so happy with life in early 2008. The previous December, he graduated from Indiana University with a political science degree, but interesting jobs weren’t easy to come by. So he was living in Bloomington, answering phones for a parking management company and smoking too many cigarettes.
“I was sort of adrift,” he admits.
Bored on a Saturday that February, he logged on to a Facebook application that let him see profiles of other singles in the area. Soon a picture of a smiling man named Ali Oral popped up. Oral lived an hour north in Indianapolis, but Maniakas sent him a note anyway.
Oral, a native of Turkey who moved to Indiana in 2005 to study English education, wrote back almost immediately. The two spent much of the day trading messages, discussing politics and the dismal state of the economy. They seemed to have the same attitudes on almost everything.
As the sun was going down, Maniakas asked whether he could drive to Indianapolis to meet in person. Oral, then 28, agreed and nervously pulled on a hat to hide his receding hairline. Once Maniakas arrived, Oral turned on an MTV reality show, assuming that was what young Americans liked to watch.
After several hours, Maniakas begged him to turn it off. They kissed that night, stayed up talking until dawn and hung out the whole next day. Oral was impressed.
“He was handsome and nice, and he was different,” Oral remembers. “When I came here I met a lot of people, but they weren’t interested in actually dating. It was different that he wanted to stay. He actually wanted to pursue a relationship.”
Maniakas got the sense that Oral was limiting himself. When he drove back to Indianapolis later that week, he told Oral to lose the hat; he was plenty handsome without it. And when Oral talked about his career teaching English — a pursuit he was good at, but didn’t particularly love — Maniakas urged him to figure out his passion.
They began a rotation of trips to see each other several times a week. “We could tell it was serious pretty early on,” remembers Maniakas’s mother, Jill. “Just seeing day-to-day how they interact with each other, how they show their caring and compassion for one another and how they support each other.”
And unlike Maniakas’s reactions to his mother’s entreaties, when Oral asked him to quit smoking and lose some of his piercings, he did.
Maniakas came out to his family during high school, but Oral had never told his parents he was gay. In Turkey, he says, there is much less acceptance of homosexuality. Almost every time he called home, his parents asked when he would be getting married. And when the two men visited Turkey in the summer of 2008, they did not disclose that they were in a relationship.
But that fall, with Maniakas’s encouragement, Oral sent his parents an e-mail telling them the truth. To his relief, they reacted more positively than he expected. “If I didn’t have this guy, if he didn’t push me, I probably never would have,” Oral says.
In July 2009, Oral moved to Bloomington to be with Maniakas. Once they were together, they committed to living life on their own terms.
“We really took stock of where we wanted to go in life, what we wanted to do,” Maniakas says. “That was one of the more defining points of our relationship, really understanding what we wanted and not just what was expected of us or what was lucrative.”
Together they enrolled at a community college. Maniakas, now 27, studied to become a paralegal. Oral, now 33, took courses in information technology.
They adopted a dog from the pound. And then a second and a third. They felt like parents of a crazy brood — like a family.
Maniakas and Oral considered themselves married, although they could not legally tie the knot in Indiana. By 2011, Maniakas had begun his career as a paralegal. But Oral, who was on a student visa, needed to continue taking classes in order to stay in the country.
In December, the pair talked to an immigration lawyer who frequently worked with same-sex couples. He advised them to marry, explaining that if the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, Oral will be able to petition for citizenship as Maniakas’s spouse.
By then the couple had begun planning a move to Maryland. They wanted to relocate someplace that had more job opportunities but still felt like a small town. They settled on Annapolis. And once same-sex marriage became legal, they decided to marry in what they hope will be their future home.
With Maniakas’s mom and dad in tow, they flew to Maryland on Jan. 10 and toured Annapolis, where they’re planning to move in July. The next day, the couple made their way to the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County. Oral wore jeans and a button-down; Maniakas was in khakis. Inside the small courthouse chapel, the men held hands and promised to be true to each other in good times and bad.
Painted on the wall before them was a quote taken from a poem by Roy Croft: “I love you not only for who you are, but for who I am when I’m with you.”