We got engaged this past December and February. Yes, that's right, December and February. Two proposals. As a gay couple, you get to make your own rules when it comes to proposals and engagements, and we both wanted the opportunity to propose and create a moment for each other. We picked out rings together, but neither of us knew when the other was going to propose.
JUSTIN PROPOSES TO NATHAN
I knew I wanted to propose to Nathan in New York, and since we were already planning a December Christmas weekend trip, it was the perfect time. With the help of some friends in the city, I was able to get connected with the producers of the current Broadway hit, An American In Paris, at the legendary Palace Theatre. They agreed to let me use the theatre after the December 12 show. As far as Nathan knew, we were just going to New York for Christmas shopping and shows. He had no idea that I was going to propose. He also had no idea that I had arranged for our entire group of friends in Nashville to also be in the city at the same time.
I made reservations for us at Tavern On The Green before the show - the perfect table, the perfect Christmas setting - but due a confused Uber driver, we ended up missing dinner and had to eat tacos from a vendor at a Christmas street market. I wasn't happy about it at the time but, looking back, it is one of my favorite memories. Walking from the market to the show, I was a nervous wreck, trying to make sure we didn't arrive before our friends, who were to be seated in the mezzanine above us. Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch, and we made it to our dead center orchestra seats with Nathan never knowing our friends were there. Under the guise of a meeting with RCA the day prior, I snuck off to the Palace Theatre and concocted an elaborate ruse with the stage manager to set the scene for the proposal. So, according to our scheme, she came to our seats and told us that one of our friends had arranged for us to have a backstage tour after the show. I knew Nathan would be over the moon about this because he loves theatre. We sat through the absolutely beautiful show and then headed back for our tour, which ended center stage.
Little did Nathan know, I had arranged for one of the artists we manage at Starstruck, Caroline Kole, to be there and perform her song, "The Guy I'm Gonna Marry." Caroline walked out and played the song and towards the end, our entire group of Nashville and New York friends started walking on stage to surprise Nathan. At the end of the song, I got down on my knee, took the ring out of the box and proposed. The entire cast of the show came out to congratulate us, and we popped champagne and celebrated late into the evening. As an added bonus, we got to spend another two amazing days in the holiday bedecked city with our best friends. It doesn’t get much better than that. You might be wondering why An American in Paris? Why Broadway? Both Paris and the Palace Theatre hold special significance for us. One of our very first date movies was Paris Je T'aime, and on our first Christmas together, Nathan gave me a lock with a promise that we would go to Paris someday and place the lock on the famous Lover's Bridge. And the Palace Theatre was the first place I ever saw a Broadway show and also the home for Judy Garland's legendary concert series. I can remember being in New York as a kid seeing my first show in that theatre and thinking "Wow, take this in...you might never get to come back." As a young kid from rural Tennessee, having multiple trips to New York in a lifetime seemed impossible. And when you realize you're gay as a young kid in the south, the thought of getting married also seems impossible. So, to stand on that stage with the man I love most in the world was a full circle moment. Not only was it all possible, but it was all coming true.
NATHAN PROPOSES TO JUSTIN
I knew I wanted Justin to know and feel not only my love for him, but the love of our chosen family of friends as well. And I knew that, somehow, I wanted to recreate the moment we met. So, on February 6, I arranged for members of the cast and crew of 9 to 5 to reunite after two years and surprise Justin with a performance at the theatre where it all began - Pull-Tight Theatre in downtown Franklin, Tennessee. That afternoon, Justin was brought to the theatre by one of the theatre's directors, under the guise of planning set design for an upcoming show. Little did he know that the cast and crew were secretly waiting inside. Once he entered the theatre, the cast began to appear one by one with roses in hand. The cast delivered their roses to Justin as they performed "Change It" from Act 2 of the show, to commemorate this change we were about to experience by moving one step closer to joining our lives together. Then, three ladies we have affectionately dubbed our "Mama Bears" - from our home church, GRACEPOINTE - appeared to give Justin their roses and an affirming hug and escorted him to center stage. As he stood center stage, a letter from Reba was delivered to him. She wanted Justin to know that like family, she would always be there for him and, in addition to her support, the man who would always be beside him was behind him at that very moment. And then it happened. I appeared behind him and the cast surrounded him in a traditional Pull-Tight circle-up, which signifies pulling together through thick and thin. I got down on one knee, and with 9 to 5's love ballad "Let Love Grow" playing delicately on piano, I presented Justin with the band that matched the one I had been given just a few weeks prior. Justin wiped the tears from his cheeks and said yes. Applause and cheers from the cast and crew echoed throughout the theatre begging for a curtain call and, of courese, the cast was prepared. A rousing rendition of the 9 to 5 "Finale" commenced around the happy and now fully engaged couple.
After a quick group photo, it was time for the next surprise. I had picked out the perfect outfit for Justin as I knew he would want to be dressed in his best for what was to come. While Justin was changing into his suit, the cast and crew made their way to Lillie Belles across the street where a whole host of close friends and church members greeted us for a Surprise Engagement Party. We kicked off the party with a champagne toast and catering by Lillie Belles. But the evening was not yet complete. I wanted Justin to feel the love from people near and far who have been a part of our story. So, a filmed montage of congratulations and well wishes from across the country graced the screen. The few supportive family members we have - five cousins to be exact - were the onscreen highlight for me. Justin and I talk a lot about our chosen family because that is what we have, and we are grateful for such love and support in our lives from L.A. to New York to Nashville. The montage also included both funny and sentimental greetings from Melissa Peterman, Blake Shelton and Reba. It was a fantastic evening!