Four years ago, Jonathon Wonders messaged Jason Melcher at 4 a.m. on GROWLr, a gay dating app. Both men were in attendance at the 2016 Bears, Bikers & Mayhem, a leather and fetish event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The two flirted in cyberspace for 10 minutes before Wonders invited Melcher to his hotel room. As one-half of a polyamorous couple, Wonders was seeking a casual fling in those early hours of the morning, waiting for his boyfriend to arrive. “I wasn’t expecting to find someone to fall in love with or bring into my relationship,” he says with a laugh.
“There was an instant connection that first night,” Melcher says. Melcher, 26, met Wonders, 43, again with the latter’s boyfriend on the second day of the gathering. The dynamic, Melcher says, was so safe and nurturing that he couldn’t wait to see the couple again. Melcher lived in South Jersey at the time; Wonders and his boyfriend were two hours away in central Pennsylvania. The men made plans to reunite a month later—but Melcher was impatient. He travelled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that following weekend and quickly developed a routine of taking every other weekend.
Wonders, a former drag queen, was still actively performing during the first few years of their relationship. A few months later, with the help of their third partner, he secretly planned a grand, romantic gesture to invite Melcher to officially join their throuple. During his act, after singing Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do,” he asked Melcher to be his boyfriend from the stage.
The third partner of the original triad has since left the relationship, but throughout their years together, the pair has welcomed additional boyfriends. Wonders says he knew the dynamic between them was different than other relationships because former partners seemed to retreat during life’s hardships whereas Melcher wanted to support him. A year and a half into the relationship, Wonders’ grandfather, the man who raised him, died. Melcher drove two hours to be present with him through his grief. Wonders says a switch flipped in his brain as the couple embraced in the doorway: “That’s when I realized he’s never going away.”
Wonders used to say he never wanted to get married, only changing his mind after growing closer to Melcher. But he kept up the charade in order to surprise Melcher with another grand proposal. He popped the question during an encore performance of their song while MCing a drag show in April 2018—this time without the gown and make-up.
As members of the International Brotherhood of Rogues, Scoundrels, and Cads and frequent attendees of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, the couple initially planned to wed on Oct. 17, 2020, hoping to attend the Faire with their loved ones the next day—but COVID-19 interrupted their plan. Then, threats to marriage equality emerged with the appointment of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and a looming presidential election. Wonders and Melcher couldn’t wait: They bumped their wedding date up and said “I do” on Saturday, just three nights before the U.S. election.
Part of the rush: The grooms live in a swing state, and they’ve been no strangers to political division over the past few months. They recently bought a home in central Pennsylvania, in an area that borders what Melcher describes as “five miles to Trump territory.” Many neighbours, he says, proudly display signs that support Trump, and in the predominantly Republican, conservative and religious area, being gay isn’t always well-received. The couple says that it’s terrifying how many people won’t be voting with the lives of queer and marginalized people in mind. “The sheer number when you add it all up in Trump signs is just staggering,” Melcher says.
Marriage is important to both men because it affords legal privileges, including the right to visit each other in the hospital and make major decisions in an emergency as well as receive insurance benefits. “People need to feel that they’re equal. Yes, it’s just a piece of paper—but it means that we’re entitled to the same rights,” Wonders says. “We just want to be able to be seen the same way that everyone else is seen. It’s being able to say that we’re here and we’re not just playing house. We are a home. We are a family.”
The pair scrambled to find a date and time when their schedules aligned. The best they could do was the wee hours of Halloween night, planning the ceremony in a day and a half. On the day of the wedding, Wonders was off from work at his two retail and service jobs. “The first thing he did was go to drop off his ballot in the morning,” Melcher says. Wonders then ran errands and cooked a meal the couple would later share with their guests.
Melcher worked all day at his full-time role as an HIV/STI educator at a local queer non-profit and served a night shift at McDonald’s. He rushed home for a shower after midnight before changing into an outfit customized for the Renaissance Faire. The grooms walked down the steps of their home toward guests who waited in the living room; Melcher’s mother played “Love Me Like You Do” from her phone.
Oct. 31 is significant for Wonders, who is Pagan and Wiccan, so the couple incorporated the spiritual tradition of handfasting, or “tying the knot,” into the ceremony. The officiant wrapped braided embroidery thread around the couple’s adjoined hands. Each groom pulled an opposite side of the string to tighten the knot, symbolizing their lifelong bond.
Guests included Melcher’s parents and twin, as well as a close friend of the couple. They donned similar Renaissance garb, with Melcher’s twin, a drag queen, in a rainbow-themed corset and long, black skirt with matching details. “I’m happy that we did this before the election,” Wonders says. “I still have concerns that they might say someday that they don’t legally recognize any of these [queer] marriages. Now I can say that we’re married no matter how they view it.”
“He’s stuck with me now!” Melcher jokes.
Pennsylvania’s electoral email system will alert voters like Melcher and Wonders as soon as their ballots are received. Until results are in, the pair plans to throw themselves into work as a distraction and mental health buffer. Reflecting on the culmination of the presidential campaigns after their wedding, Wonders steals a line from an infamous Designing Women scene: “I hope that people with good sense get power and people with power get good sense.”