By Amy Lynn Smith
Antonio Johnson-Seals used to say he never wanted to get married. In fact, even though he had to pursue his now-husband, Rev. Jeffrey Seals, before he would agree to go out with him, he still told him he wasn’t interested in getting married.
But once the couple fell in love, all that changed.
It didn’t happen overnight. The couple met five years ago on a boat ride, and it wasn’t smooth sailing right away.
“Jeffrey acted like he didn’t want to be bothered, so I had to make myself known to him,” Antonio says. “I had another friend of mine reintroduce me to him. I was determined. I got his phone number and called him. After that, it was there.”
Jeffrey had his reasons for being hesitant at first. He’d been involved with someone who had passed away six months before and he was still clearing his head, he says.
“When Tony called me, I was happy to be talking to someone,” he recalls. “For me, the major thing in meeting a person is the conversation first. If I can talk to you longer than 15 minutes or an hour, I’m good. Most people don’t want conversation.”
That was once true for him, Antonio says, but that changed when the couple met. “Jeffrey showed me another way of dating,” he explains. “He taught me about conversation and going out and having fun as opposed to just jumping into bed. That’s what I was used to, but Jeffrey said we were going to get to know each other and we did.”
One connection they discovered right away was their shared faith. Jeffrey is part of Whosoever Ministry in Detroit in addition to his job as a system administrator. Antonio says Jeffrey’s faith was part of his charm from the beginning.
“One of the things that attracted me to Tony is someone accepting you for who you are,” adds the 53-year-old Jeffrey. “Someone who is trying to help you grow into a better person, but not trying to change you. Our shared faith has been very important.”
In fact, Jeffrey proposed to Antonio in church. “It was so surprising and I love it because it shows our community that we’re happy, that it can be done,” says Antonio, who is 47 and president of LGBT Detroit, in addition to being a Human Resources recruiter. “It shows people in our black community that we can sustain one another.”
That sense of community extended to their wedding celebration, which started with an official ceremony in Washington, DC, on Jan. 18, 2014. Then they returned home and re-enacted the entire ceremony — tuxedos and all — along with a reception for family and friends in April 2014. Bringing both of their families together created a party with more than 300 guests.
“This was the first time I’d had my whole family in one place in years,” Antonio says. “Having them there with me, when we exchanged vows here, I kept thinking I was going to cry — and I’m not a big crybaby. It meant so much to me to have my family there for such a touching moment.”
Jeffrey agrees that uniting their families was meaningful. “Having his father accept me as a son-in-law was really nice,” he says. “He just loves me and vice versa. It means a lot that our families accept our relationship, on both sides.”
Even in the faith community, acceptance isn’t always automatic. According to Jeffrey, this lack of acceptance is often simply a lack of understanding. So he listens, lets people complain that he and Antonio shouldn’t be together because it’s a sin, but doesn’t debate with them.
“You believe what you believe,” he says. “But once they’re around us, people can see it’s a strong love and they want that in their own lives. It’s much more show than tell with us.”
Although they were married before the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, the couple believes the decision has changed the way they see their relationship.
“It’s caused me to be more who I am, as far as being a gay man, and to feel more comfortable with myself,” Jeffrey says. “I grew up in a generation where we had two separate lives, and now I’m blending them into one. I never pretended to be straight, but I’m more out now.”
Open communication — especially with each other — is central to their relationship, Antonio adds, even if they don’t always agree.
“I can be a wild child sometimes, but he keeps me on track and you can’t get offended by what your husband says,” he explains. “If I know you love me, I can get past it. He ain’t going nowhere and neither am I.”
The LGBT community will celebrate all the special occasions in their lives at the Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo, hosted by Between The Lines from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 20 at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. Tickets are $10 each. Learn more or order tickets online at btlweddingexpo.com. For updates, follow http://www.facebook.com/UltimateLGBTExpo on Facebook, @BTLexpo on Twitter and @BTLEXPO on Instagram.