It was the Saturday night the weekend before Halloween of 2006 when Jeff Benavides joined friends at Teotihuaca, the gay-friendly Mexican restaurant on Airline near North Main. He arrived late. “Casually late, which is my norm, so I can make an entrance,” he clarified while flashing his dazzling smile.
When Jeff entered the dining room, he noticed that his group of friends had grown from four to six, including some guys he had seen out and about but had never actually met. Jeff recognized one of them from the Lone Star Volleyball League and the gym. His dark hair and muscular build caught Jeff’s eye, so after greeting his hosts, Bob and Mark, Jeff introduced himself to John Ramirez as he sat down in the empty seat next to him.
It was John’s friend Andy who asked Jeff all of the first-date questions. Are you from Houston? Where do you work?” Since John was listening closely, Jeff shared that he worked with Harris Health System’s Thomas Street Health Center, providing health education and counseling to patients who are HIV-positive. Originally from the Dallas area, graduate school at the University of St. Thomas brought him to Houston.
John, a graduate of Texas State University in San Marcos, shared that he managed the health and wellness facility at Memorial Hermann Southwest. As an exercise physiologist, John trains elderly clients and assists with the development of exercise programs.
Over dinner, John and Jeff shared more personal details, including that John had ended an eight-year relationship the previous year. Jeff was single, and had just bought his first home in Oak Forest. They both like working out and playing sports.
After dinner, due to it being close to Halloween, they decided to scout out the gay bars in Montrose. When they walked into South Beach and learned the cover charge was $20 each, they both gasped in shock, then laughed that frugality was another trait they had in common. Nevertheless, they went in and had a great time dancing, enjoying a few more adult beverages, and sharing their first kiss. Before saying goodnight, they decided to get together the next day for the Sunday evening Mass at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, where Jeff was scheduled to participate as a reader.
“I did not think John would show up,” Jeff confesses. “But when I looked out into the congregation while reading my part in the service, I saw John’s handsome, bright face. I was wowed and impressed that he followed through.”
After the service, they met up at the back of the church and Jeff asked him to dinner across the street at Café Adobe, where their conversation was effortless. They talked about their jobs, families, and hopes for the future, and what they liked and didn’t like about dating. It was also when Jeff confessed to never having been in a long-term relationship, and John confessed to wanting another relationship. That evening became their official first date.
In January 2007 John moved in to Jeff’s house in the Oak Forest area, and in 2008 they bought a bit bigger home in Westbury (because they believed the secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms!).
To keep the romance alive in their relationship, they shower each other with flowers, cards, or great desserts for no reason. Jeff notes that John whips up the greatest batch of brownies on the spur of the moment.
“And I adore the fact that Jeff leaves me love notes every day on the kitchen bar—which also include a Honey-Do list!”
Many times during their 12-year relationship, they talked about getting married. When Harris Health System offered healthcare benefits for same-sex-couples, Jeff sat John down and said, “I love you enough to say we are not getting any younger, and having good healthcare is important and beneficial for living a healthy life. So, John, will you marry me?
“I know this may seem practical, but I felt it was real,” adds Jeff. “At that point in our lives, John had his own business, Vintage Fitness, and it was doing well, but he had not been able to afford insurance for himself. So what kind of partner would I be if I did not extend myself, my benefits, to him?”
They were married at the Harris County Courthouse on July 20, 2018, by judge Steven Kirkland, with just a few friends and family members in attendance. Then on October 27, 2018, their marriage would be blessed at a ceremony for 110 family members and close friends at a The Villagio, on the southwest side of town. Minister Sean Spruell, an old high-school friend of Jeff’s from Grand Prairie,
Texas, performed the ceremony.
The two moments they cherish the most from the ceremony were their vows, spoken from their hearts, telling their friends and family how they felt about one another, how they loved one another, and how relationships only grow stronger with the union and blessing of family and friends. The second was the blessing of their rings, which included every guest saying a silent blessing over their rings, with their two best men, Dave Seymour and John Huckaby, providing the final blessing of the rings before the grooms slipped them on.
The newlyweds honeymooned at a Hilton resort in Cozumel, Mexico.
This article appears in the September 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.