Tourists came and went. That’s what happens in Hawaii, and William “Bud” League knew better than to get attached.
But James Pascual was cute and charming, so they spent the night talking after meeting at a Honolulu bar in August 2007.
Unlike most of the guys Bud met, it turned out James would be on the island for more than a week. He was in town for a whole month, interviewing for a rotation at Tripler Army Medical Center. Soon, they were meeting up every evening after work.
“He was just silly and outgoing — just a fun-loving guy. We just laughed and had the best time the whole time we were together,” says Bud, who grew up in East Texas and moved to Hawaii on his own after college. “And that’s what I needed, was someone I could laugh with.”
To James, who was training to be a pediatrician, the whole thing felt like a cinematic summer romance montage. But by the end of the month, they both began to think there might be something very real between them. “So we did the daunting task of saying, ‘Well, do you want to actually make this a relationship?” James recalls. “We said, ‘Well, let’s see how it goes.’ ’Cause that’s the test. It’s a real test.”
James returned to Washington at the end of the month, not sure when — or if — he’d be back on the island. They began talking by phone every day.
“It was nice because you really get to know someone and you’re forced to really talk,” Bud says. “I think it was a deeper connection because it wasn’t just physical.”
That winter, James returned for another month, and soon he learned that he’d be able to return the following summer for a three-year residency. When he moved to Honolulu, the pair got an apartment together.
“We kind of hung in there. And it was like, ‘Wow we’ve actually been doing this for a year,’ ” James recalls. “But that’s when our relationship really, really started.”
But the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was in effect at the time. James had come out to family and friends in 2002, and since joining the military in 2004, he often felt as though he was leading a double life. He worried that a colleague might spot him out at a gay bar or that a Facebook post could jeopardize his position, putting him at risk of being discharged and forced to repay the military for all of his medical training.
A few very close friends in his residency program knew about his relationship with Bud, but he often had to skirt the issue. If nurses wanted to set him up on a date, he’d say he already had a girlfriend. When the statute was repealed in 2010, James finally felt he could start to live an open, authentic life.
As the years passed, the pair knew they’d face a crossroads when James’s residency was over. By then, Bud had spent almost a decade in Hawaii, building a life and community for himself.
He had begun to think of his relationship with James as permanent, “but I was also thinking, ‘Am I going to move from all my friends? Because that’s a life commitment at that point,” says Bud, now 35. “By the end of the three years, I had pretty much decided, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’ But it was hard.”
In 2011, James was stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas, and the next year he was transferred to a base near Tacoma, Wash. Both times, Bud searched for a job, finally got hired, waited a few months for his health care to kick in and had barely paid off his deductible when James was transferred again.
“He did make the ultimate sacrifice,” says James, now 32. “When you talk about the sacrifices of military families, same-sex partners are never recognized. They move like any other military family, but they had to pay for their own flight. I still had singles pay. That was the biggest thing that made me feel like a second-class citizen.”
On Christmas in 2012, the pair opened presents with their dog. After everything was unwrapped, James said he had one more gift and presented Bud with an engagement ring made of Hawaiian Koa wood.
Knowing they’d be moving to the District in June, the pair began planning a wedding in the city. Soon after the couple unpacked, they stood in front of the Supreme Court building as a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. The decision meant that once they married, Bud would have the same benefits as any other military spouse.
“I’m like every other person — that’s all we wanted. It’s not a special privilege,” says James, now 32. “We always say, ‘It shouldn’t even be called a gay marriage. It should just be called a marriage.’ ”
On Nov. 9, 120 friends and relatives gathered at the Whittemore House, off Dupont Circle, to see the pair exchange vows. Their families presented them with Hawaiian leis to commemorate the place where they first met and fell in love.
“Our joke is that it’s like the one night stand that never ended,” Bud said before the wedding.
“It’s just surreal,” added James. “Because these things were just dreams in my mind. I always wondered, ‘How is life going to be for me?’ But it’s kind of working out. The world works in weird ways for you. And everything is happening.”