A couple who firmly believe in second chances got the chance to celebrate their love in July 2011, and now it will be televised for all of America to see.
Jaime Laurita, 47, and Rich Lane, 41, were united in a civil union ceremony July 23 at their home in the Northwest suburbs. Bravo TV network was there for the rehearsal dinner and ceremony, filming for "The Real Housewives of New Jersey." The rehearsal dinner episode will air this Sunday, June 3; the wedding will air June 10 (both at 9 p.m. Central time).
As regular watchers of "Housewives" know, Laurita's family populates the show, and he's made two guest appearances. A chef, entrepreneur, party planner and designer, Laurita has toured with stars, and when he's on the road, he sometimes stops by his siblings' homes. His sisters Caroline Manzo and Dina Manzo are original Housewives, although Dina now has her own HGTV show called "Dina's Party." His brother Chris and sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita (another Housewife) are also on the show. In Season 1, Jaime and Dina were filmed buying things for the Madonna tour, and in Season 3, he gave "uncle advice" to Chris' stepdaughter Ashley.
Jaime said Bravo has told him they like the personality he brings to the show.
"I never in a million years thought we'd be in this position," Laurita said. "Actually talking about our wedding ... it's a miracle to me that I've actually lived to this point, to see the day."
The couple met at Berlin, a nightclub in downtown Chicago, 14 years ago after chatting online. The first time they met they didn't talk, because the timing didn't feel right. When they met again at the same bar a week later, it felt right, and they talked. They've been together ever since.
The timing felt right again last summer to apply for a civil union, after Illinois law created the civil union license June 1.
Lane, a photography teacher at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, had been fighting for domestic partner insurance with no success for years. When school let out last summer, he and Laurita went to the courthouse to apply for a license. This eventually evolved into a ceremony, which the couple planned in six short weeks.
Not every family member was able to attend because it happened so quickly, but "Housewives" cast members, including Caroline Manzo and Chris Laurita, were present.
The couple let many of their friends help, including one who officiated the ceremony. Roberta Heintz, a 34-year-old neighbor who has known the couple for 2½ years, wrote a short speech about how Laurita's and Lane's paths led to their wedding moment and how deep their love is for one another.
"Being around them conjures up a lot of positive feelings, so it was pretty easy (to write)," she said.
As the couple planned the wedding, Bravo called.
The couple decided to allow the wedding to be filmed to give an inside look at a same-sex union.
"The reason why we decided to do the whole thing is to show America that we do exist, and just like everyone else, we have our ups and downs. ... We wanted to show America the best way we knew how that we matter," Laurita said. "Bravo was very interested in that because it was a real situation."
Despite Bravo's presence, the couple did the wedding the way they wanted.
"Nothing was rehearsed; what you see is what you get," Laurita said.
Once the horse-drawn carriage started to move, Lane said, he didn't notice the cameras.
"Every so often, you would catch a glimpse of a camera or you would see a bright light, and it would remind you of it," Lane said. "But our wedding was such a perfect party and celebration ... that I didn't really think twice about any of that."
Laurita agreed, saying they both asked each other later where the cameras were.
The couple haven't seen the two episodes yet, but they are hosting a fundraiser and viewing party at Spin, a nightclub in Chicago.
All the proceeds will go to Equality Illinois, a group fighting for gay and lesbian marriage rights. They both support the suits filed this week in Illinois arguing that the law defining marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.
While the couple said they haven't experienced legal problems, they are glad to have the civil union license. But more important than the piece of paper was the celebration of their love for one another, they said.
"After being with him for so long, I've never been as happy as I am right now, in the moment, in love with him," Laurita said, to which Lane replied, "Aww."
The wedding was a coming out moment for Lane, who hadn't told his co-workers or students of his sexual orientation. This far, with the previews airing on Bravo, he's gotten no negative reaction. Many are just excited to see him on TV.
The Daily Herald is not naming their hometown, however, in interests of their safety.
Heintz, who's excitedly awaiting seeing the final cut of "one of the greatest nights" she's ever experienced, hopes viewers will see a day that was full of "fun and love, no drama."
Laurita and Lane are excited to see the shows almost one year after they were filmed and not long after President Obama said publicly he supported gay marriage.
"We feel so thankful that we were basically, I feel, almost chosen, to show the world ... an inside look at what it's like to be this couple in America today," Laurita said.
"It doesn't matter who you love; it matters that you love in this moment in time."