Hearing Wedding Bells 23 Years Later

Meet Jim Donio and Larry Exler, two more Collingswood residents planning their nuptials in the first week of legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

Larry Exler (left) and Jim Donio (right) with their dog, Zachary. Credit: Jim Donio.
Larry Exler (left) and Jim Donio (right) with their dog, Zachary. Credit: Jim Donio.
Jim Donio and Larry Exler have been together for 23 years, but have only spent the twenty-third of those in the borough of Collingswood. Donio is the president of the Music Business Association; Exler works in central billing for Cooper Hospital.

After a private commitment ceremony and a civil union, the two will finally be legally wed on Friday in Collingswood. Patch asked them to explain what it feels like, after nearly a quarter-century of wondering whether this day would come.

PATCH: When you are married on Friday, it's going to be the latest in a series of commitments to one another. What makes this different?

JIM DONIO: We had our first commitment ceremony with a Unitarian Minister in 1994 in Lambertville, NJ. For all intents and purposes, it was a wedding with music, flowers, cake, photos, etc.

Our family and friends were there to help celebrate our love and our life together—but of course it had no legal standing.

Then, in 2007, we took advantage of New Jersey's civil union opportunity. We were joined by a judge at the court house in Mount Holly, and had a nice dinner with our witnesses afterwards. This ceremony was important because it entitled us to some benefits in the state.

And now, the third time is the charm. This ceremony validates to everyone what we've been living for almost a quarter of a century but could not have before now. It's all of the rights and privileges that marriage affords.

PATCH: Did you want to be one of the first couples to be married under the new law? 

DONIO: Larry thought it would be fun to be the first, or among the first. I happen to be very competitive, so I thought so too. One of the reasons we moved to Collingswood was because of its progressive embrace of all lifestylesso being married by Mayor Maley just a few steps from our home is very exciting.

PATCH: Your story was picked up by Fox News at the end of last week, and has been circulated across the country. How have your family and friends reacted?

DONIO: Everyone is very enthusiastic and supportive. Those closest to us have seen us through the ups and downs that all relationships endure, so they are sharing in the joy of this moment.

And because of the power of social media, it's affirming to receive well-wishes from friends of friends and family. The news has been shared coast to coast in one click, and people we don't even know very well are sending us messages.

PATCH: What are your thoughts on Collingswood taking the lead on the same-sex marriage question?

DONIO: One of the reasons we decided to relocate to Collingswood was because of its advocacy and the tone of acceptance and pride that the local leaders set.

We're elated to be experiencing such a momentous time in our history, and hopefully setting a good example for the same-sex couples who will come after us. They will now be able to meet, court and then decide to celebrate their love through marriage, openly and proudly—just like everyone else!

During the first week that same-sex marriage has been legal in the state of New Jersey, Collingswood Patch is talking to couples in the borough who are among the first to wed.

Know someone who should be profiled? E-mail matt.skoufalos@patch.com.

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