After falling in love on Facebook, John Merullo and George Zemanek had a traditional church wedding— but with two grooms.
By Henry V. Thiel
John Merullo and George Zemanek met at a mutual friend’s birthday party in October 2010, when they sat next to each other in the Pope Room at Buca di Beppo on Buffalo Speedway.
Zemanek’s initial thought was that Merullo was both cute and weird. Merullo just thought Zemanek was cute. They immediately became Facebook friends.
Fast-forward two years. When Zemanek mentioned that he was leaving for an out-of-state internship, Merullo invited him to lunch at the Hobbit Café. They spent several hours chatting and catching up, and then they hugged before parting. Two days before Zemanek left, he asked Merullo to lunch again. “It’s hard to explain why we went out for a second date,” Zemanek says. “It just felt right.”
While Zemanek was away, they chatted on Facebook every evening throughout the summer, sometimes for hours. When Zemanek returned, they were a couple.
“Facebook was so central to our becoming a couple and developing our relationship that John joked about inviting Mark Zuckerberg to the wedding,” Zemanek says.
Merullo, 48, is a librarian and serves as manager of business services at Houston Public Library’s downtown location. Zemanek, 38, is an occupational therapist.
He says one of the couple’s first dates involved “an amazing picnic” that Merullo planned. “John is very good at making special romantic meals,” Zemanek says. “He somehow managed to get an array of cheeses, fruits, olives, and bread—along with real plates and glasses—in a tiny basket.”
“We pretty much knew right away that we were ‘end game,’” Merullo says. “Neither of us had really been in a long-term relationship before, and both of us had made peace with the idea of always being single. When we found each other, we knew it was right.”
Zemanek proposed on April 29, 2016, at Michael’s Outpost, where pianist Jerry Atwood played Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” while a slideshow of the couple’s photos was displayed on a screen. The gay nightclub’s owner and a bartender even recruited patrons to sing along. The final image in the slide show said, “John Merullo, will you marry me?” The bartender came out with champagne, and Zemanek gave Merullo an onion ring as his engagement ring. Unbeknownst to Merullo, the entire thing was live-streamed on Facebook so all of their friends could watch.
They decided to marry at Trinity Episcopal Church in Midtown on April 29, 2017, exactly one year after the proposal. They chose Trinity because Merullo has been a member and chorister at the church since 2002, and he currently serves on the vestry. At the time, they were the fourth gay couple that had been married at Trinity.
Trinity’s associate rector, Rev. Rich Houser, officiated at the marriage, while the church’s rector, Rev. Hannah Atkins, celebrated the Eucharist. Zemanek’s pastor, Rev. Marvin Havard of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, preached. Merullo’s friends and parents assisted during the ceremony.
The wedding began with the processional hymn “All My Hope on God Is Founded.” The procession included the choir, acolytes, and clergy, followed by their wedding parties. During the fanfare before the hymn’s final verse, the grooms were escorted up the aisle by their mothers.
Other than the fact that there were two grooms, the couple had a very traditional church wedding. It started with a prelude of four choir anthems, ending with their friend Stephanie Dory singing the Bach/Gounod setting of “Ave Maria.” The service included several of their favorite hymns, representing both the Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran church traditions. They both insisted on the communion rite being part of the service, and they used the Episcopal Church’s new wedding liturgy that has language appropriate for either same-gender or different-gender couples.
At the reception in the adjacent fellow-ship hall, the grooms had a special treat for their guests: a first dance choreographed to “Last Night of the World” from Miss Saigon. It took them four months to put it together. Zemanek has a dance background, but Merullo does not. “Learning how to move together through dance brought us closer together as a couple,” Merullo says.
“It was so rewarding to create something beautiful to share with our friends and family,” Zemanek adds.
Capturing every moment was the one and only Dalton DeHart. “Dalton was the first vendor we hired,” Merullo says. “We knew that Dalton was the only person we would want to photograph our wedding.” Graham Gemoets of Butter & Company catered the reception.
For their honeymoon, they decided to add to their growing collection of selfies in front of state capitol buildings, which already included Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. They traveled to Merullo’s native New England and visited all six states, plus New York. It was a chance for Merullo to show Zemanek around Boston and introduce his husband to his friends and relatives.
Zemanek and Merullo say they would advise other couples considering getting married to first participate in some type of counseling or an engaged-couples retreat. They participated in six sessions of premarital counseling that Trinity Church requires. “This was very beneficial in learning how to communicate better, especially in the first year of marriage,” Merullo says. “Definitely do it. It will be worth the time.”
Zemanek and Merullo also recommend that couples give themselves a timeline and stay organized when planning their wedding. They had a binder with every important document and all of their planning notes. This not only kept them on track, but also helped divide duties.
“On our wedding day, everything went very smoothly and we were both very calm and relaxed—something not many married couples can boast,” Zemanek says.
This article appears in the May 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.