New Orleans native Anthony J. “A.J.” Mistretta was looking for a roommate when he met Austin R. Abernathy.
Instead of just a roommate, A.J. found love.
“A friend introduced us when I moved to Houston from the suburbs and was looking for a roommate. Austin was looking for a place to live. We connected. He moved in, and about a month later, we began dating,” A.J. says.
A.J., 40, is a graduate of the University of New Orleans and is the vice president of communications at the Greater Houston Partnership. Austin, 28, is from Texas City and graduated from the University of Houston. He is the assistant production manager at Stages Theatre, and they currently live in Houston’s Third Ward.
About four months after they started dating, the couple was hanging out at a “Sunday Funday” in Montrose with friends when Austin grabbed A.J.’s arm as they were walking to the car. Austin then told A.J. that he already knew they would get married one day. “I think it took him by surprise, but he quickly warmed up to the idea,” Austin recalls.
The couple bought a house together in May 2020. “It was stressful to search for a place and sell ours as the uncertainty of COVID set in. But I knew that I wanted to propose to Austin around the time we moved,” A.J. says. He had considered a number of ways to propose, but he knew for sure that he wanted their dog, Abby, to play a part in it.
“Abby has become such a big part of our lives since we got her four months after we began dating,” A.J. says. So he asked a friend to paint a sign addressed to Austin from Abby’s point of view, asking her Papa if he would marry Dad. “I put the sign around her neck, played a romantic song, and asked Austin to join me on the couch. He was very surprised, began to cry, and quickly said Yes.”
They chose New Orleans as their wedding destination because it holds a lot of special memories for both of them. “We went down there one weekend last fall to find a venue, and after a long search, we picked the New Orleans Botanical Gardens at City Park. We chose November 5, thinking that the weather would be ideal at that time for an outdoor wedding,” Austin explains.
They both wrote their own vows for the ceremony. “I had rehearsed mine many times, so when the time came, I ended up not using the paper at all.” Austin says. “In the end, it might not have been exactly what was written, but what I said was natural and heartfelt. I don’t really like being the center of attention, so this was a big deal for me. And I could tell A.J. was proud, as well.”
While they chose to walk down the aisle unescorted, they each did mother-and-son dances after the ceremony. “This was definitely a special moment for our mothers, and for us. We chose the song ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac because of the poignant lyrics. Halfway through the song, we switched moms. We both feel extremely welcomed by the other’s family,” A.J. says.
Although they didn’t specifically seek out LGBTQ vendors, they did ask each vendor if they were comfortable doing a gay wedding. “We didn’t want to make a fuss about it, but it was important to us that the vendors wanted to do a gay wedding and not just feel obligated,” A.J. notes.
When they first met with the coordinator at the Botanical Gardens, she was very direct and matter-of-fact about the details. For a minute, they wondered if she was OK with gay weddings, so they asked her how often she had gay couples getting married there. She then took them both by the arms and said, “Oh honey, I do them all the time. Just had a gay couple last weekend. You are so welcome here.”
“From that moment on, we absolutely loved working with our coordinator, and would recommend the gardens to anyone having a wedding in New Orleans,” A.J. says.
So what does this happy couple think about their married life together? “Austin absolutely makes me smile, each and every day,” A.J. says. “He has a tremendous sense of humor that often makes the little things funny and adventurous. We love exploring new places and experiences together.”
And Austin adds that the feeling is certainly mutual. “It was also important to me that the person I married believed in and respected individuality. In addition to us being a couple, we [need to] be our own selves and not lose our identities to become ‘us,’” he emphasizes. “A.J. and I are definitely on the same wavelength, and I appreciate that we could have that important conversation early on in our relationship.”
This article appears in the February 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.