Houston couple Stephen Michael Miranda, 27, and Blake Stevens Mudd, 25, may have met virtually, but their connection could not be any more real.
Stephen, a Space City native who was raised by lesbian parents, is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and works as a private-client advisor and vice president of investments at J.P. Morgan. Blake, from Lake Charles, graduated from the University of Houston and is now a lecturer at both his alma mater and Houston Community College. His interest in fashion led him to open the Hyphen Boutique online store, and also to become the operations manager at Pomp and Circumstance Boutique. The duo lives in an East End neighborhood near downtown Houston.
“In true millennial fashion, we initially met on Tinder,” Blake says. It was July of 2017. Their first date was at Hops Meets Barley on Alabama Street. “I don’t remember much about that day,” Stephen says. “It was the first time I’d really felt an instant connection with someone.”
Stephen says marriage was never on his radar because for most of his life, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal. But then, after falling in love, planning a future, and buying a home together, he admits that something still felt incomplete. “It seemed like we were in something much more serious than just a “dating relationship,” and marriage felt like the natural next step. So about a month after we’d moved in, I bought a ring.”
It was Stephen who proposed to Blake at a pre-Pride pool party in 2019 that he was hosting with a friend. After the hosts got everyone’s attention with a “Thank you for coming” speech, Stephen got down on one knee and popped the question in front of 75 guests.
Blake recalls thinking that it seemed odd when Stephen insisted he come forward to join the two party hosts, but he didn’t question it. “Suddenly, a speech about love occurred, Stephen got on one knee, a Tiffany & Co. box appeared, and the rest is, well, history,” Blake says. Naturally, he said yes.
In hindsight, Stephen wishes they had planned to wear better outfits for their proposal photos (instead of the tank tops and swim trunks they ended up in), but he says, “Ultimately, it was very ‘us.’”
With the pandemic looming, the couple felt that getting married was an imperative. “We didn’t even have wills. I feared that with nothing legally binding us, one of us could have been cut completely off from the other. The best way to show we loved each other during these scary times was to tie the knot—and every other legal loose end,” Stephen says.
The couple had originally planned on having an elaborate wedding with over 200 guests as a fundraiser for the Montrose Center’s LGBTQ-affirming Law Harrington Senior Living Center. “We had to pare down our guest list to near nothing, as reports of COVID clusters from weddings were sprouting up daily,” Stephen recalls.
Instead, they got married on June 28, 2020—the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots—in the place most special to them: their home. Stephen’s cousin Birdie Rodriguez, who is also gay, officiated, and no family or friends were physically present. “It was just our little quarantine pod, but we did have a good crowd on Zoom,” Stephen says. Cousin Birdie’s daughter Bianca served as their photographer, videographer, Zoom tech, and witness. “We all [went to get] Luby’s takeout for dinner afterwards. It wasn’t the wedding we initially wanted, but once again, it was very ‘us.’”
“Marriage is not about the wedding day,” Blake adds. “Marriage is about the union of two people who love each other. Our wedding day may not have been what we originally intended, but being married every day to Stephen is my equivalent of that fairy-tale moment. Also, champagne and to-go Luby’s for our wedding meal was cool, too.”
With the help of the couple’s friend and local LGBTQ historian JD Doyle, Stephen and Blake created a video featuring archival footage showing the landmark political events that ultimately made marriage equality possible. An excerpt from President Obama’s speech following the 2009 Supreme Court marriage-equality ruling played in the background after Zoom viewers logged in to the couple’s wedding ceremony.
“Gay marriage is still an act of protest against the many people in power across this country who would have us quietly return to the discarded corners of society,” Stephen says. “Through our love, we’ve committed to continuing their fight to make this a more equal place for all of us, and to never take our foot off the gas.”
The pandemic made getting a marriage certificate in Harris County tricky, so they got one in Galveston County instead. “Our Galveston marriage certificate looks like a kids’ birthday party invitation with a Pirates of the Caribbean theme,” Stephen laughs. “We definitely skipped framing that one.”
From buying a house together before they got married to getting married in their own living room, Blake notes that almost everything about their relationship has been non-traditional—including their honeymoon plans.
“Every future trip or vacation we go on together will be counted as our honeymoon,” he proudly explains.
This article appears in the July 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.