By any standard, staying together for 27 years is an amazing achievement.
But when you want to get married and celebrate the life you have built together and are told that legally you can’t, it is disheartening.
Robert Fage and Bob Cribari have gone through such a situation. The couple lives in the Edgewood section of Cranston with their dog, and enjoys the peace and quiet of the neighborhood and community around them.
Both men come from large families. Fage has two brothers and two sisters, 11 nieces and nephews and 14 great-nieces and great-nephews.
“No one in my family cares that I’m gay. It is never an issue. They know I love Bob and that I am loved in return. That is what matters to them,” he said.
Fage graduated from North Kingstown High School in 1975. He served in the U.S. Army in Texas, Hawaii and Australia as a medic in the immunization clinics.
Upon his honorable discharge, he enrolled at CCRI and worked at South County Hospital. He was a bartender for 17 years at various clubs in Providence, owned the Coffee Cafe on South Main Street in Providence and currently is a customer service representative for CVS.
Cribari’s family is made up of seven siblings – three sisters and four brothers. He has 19 nieces and nephews and 16 great-nieces and great-nephews. His family never cared about his preferences, either.
“As long as I am happy, that is what is important,” he said.
A Pilgrim High School graduate from the class of 1983, Cribari has spent most of his career in banking and finance, working for Fleet for 20 years and is currently employed by Citizens Mortgage.
The couple first met back in 1985, when Fage was a bartender at the No Name in Providence and Cribari a customer. They began dating in 1987.
“I made the first move,” said Cribari. “He was too shy.”
“We were dating for about a year before we moved in together,” said Fage.
The men said coming out to their families was really a courtesy they extended.
“I told my mother in 1998 when my stepfather passed away. It was just a formality,” Fage said.
Cribari said he knew he was gay when he was 11 or 12 years old.
“I told my mom in 1987. My whole family accepted it, I was never ostracized or shunned,” he said.
Before the legalization of same-sex marriage in August 2013, the only option available for gay couples in Rhode Island was a same-sex blessing. This could be performed in the Unitarian Church.
“Emotionally, this was very important to us,” Cribari said, noting that when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, they had contemplated moving. “Massachusetts was the catalyst for all of this. Other states followed suit, and the sky didn’t fall.”
“We could get a civil union in Rhode Island, but we wanted to wait until we could get married,” Fage said, adding that marriage was important for the couple spiritually and in terms of legal recognition and protection.
When Rhode Island became the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriage, the men were ready to say, “I do.”
At the Cranston City Hall, the clerk’s office employees were excited for them.
“Everyone there was so nice and supportive. There was no sense of judgment or disapproval,” said Fage.
According to Deputy City Clerk Rosalba Zanni, Cranston had 36 same-sex marriage licenses filed in 2013 and has a dozen so far in 2014.
“We didn’t want an over-the-top traditional gay wedding,” Fage said.
The discussions started immediately, and there were strong opinions from both families and good friends as to what was expected.
“We didn’t want anything traditional,” Cribari said – meaning no wedding parties, feeding of the cake or dancing.
There were so many people who wanted to be part of the celebration that they changed their plans from a simple private ceremony with a larger party later to a small luncheon ceremony for family and friends.
Pastor Dennis Cole from the Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Warwick performed the ceremony.
“I didn’t really care about having a religious ceremony, I did it because it meant so much to Rob,” Cribari said.
For the couple, getting married is not about politics or making a statement.
“It is about family – blending families and making a loving environment,” Cribari said.
The date was set for June 1, 2014. When they purchased their matching bands at Macy’s, the sales clerk came out from behind the counter and hugged both of them.
“It was a very touching moment for both of us,” Fage said.
As the sun shone on the couple that day, family members and friends all stated that both of the men’s mothers were smiling down on them and blessing the union.
“My 91-year-old uncle called us exactly one week after the wedding to wish us happy anniversary,” Cribari said.
Merging the families legally was just a technicality.
“My siblings all call him brother, he was son to my mom. There are no in-laws,” Cribari added.
For Fage, the legitimacy of the license is what is important.
“It is important to be equal in the eyes of the government and to have and enjoy equal rights always,” he said.
Just like with any couple that has been together for so long, they have their differences, but both say they love and are committed to each other.
“We balance each other, we support each other and we love each other. That is what marriage is all about,” Fage said.