Mr. Kuga texted Mr. Kurtz five minutes later: “Hi Adam, this is Mitchell.”
Mr. Kuga was about to leave for work, at Momo Sushi Shack in Brooklyn, where he was a waiter. “Adam said, ‘When are you free?’” Mr. Kuga said. “I said, ‘Next Tuesday.’ He said, ‘I mean tonight, when are you free tonight?’ So I told him I was off at 1 a.m. and he said, ‘I’ll be there.’”
“It was like old-school pre-Tinder,” Mr. Kurtz said.
Mr. Kuga was pushing a broom when Mr. Kurtz walked in. Before Mr. Kurtz could even introduce himself in person, Phillip Gilmour, then the owner of the restaurant, approached Mr. Kurtz.
“We love Mitchell,” he said to Mr. Kurtz. “If you break his heart, I will kill you.”
They went for drinks at a nearby bar and then went to Mr. Kurtz’s apartment, where he had set out slices of pizza. They talked till 7 a.m.
They soon began dating, and in the intervening months and years, they traveled to Paris, Brazil, Tokyo, Coney Island. They wrote each other love notes in perfect penmanship. On a birthday card to Mr. Kurtz, Mr. Kuga addressed it to, “my babe my sun my emoji my rock my lol my jew boo my reason.”
When they met, they both were relatively new to New York. Mr. Kuga had moved to the city from Oahu in 2010, after having studied magazine journalism at Syracuse University, from which he graduated in 2009. He is a freelance journalist who has written for Next Magazine and for Gothamist, including an article about Spam (the food product, not the digital menace).
Mr. Kurtz graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2009 and moved to New York in 2012 to work as a graphic artist. He was always creative and enjoyed making crafts with bits and bobs of paper he had saved, ticket stubs and back-of-the-envelope doodles.
He began to build a large social media following, particularly on Instagram, of those who enjoyed his wry humor in celebrating paper culture through digital media, as well as the witty items he began to sell online (like little heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candies that say, “RT 4 YES, FAV 4 NO” AND “REBLOG ME”).
In 2014, Penguin Random House published his book “1 Page at a Time: A Daily Creative Companion,” which has sold 100,000 copies, his book editor Marian Lizzi said. “Pick Me Up,” a journal, was his follow-up in 2016. This year he published “Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives.” He has a line of stationery and notebooks through Abrams, and his specialty dining pieces and mugs are sold by Fishs Eddy. He now works full time as an author and artist.
As their careers grew, so did their affection. After dating for two years, Mr. Kurtz and Mr. Kuga moved in together.
For both Mr. Kuga and Mr. Kurtz it was the first big romance.
About 10 days after meeting Mr. Kurtz, Mr. Kuga texted his mother a photo of Mr. Kurtz. “I met a boy,” he wrote. He had come out to his mother a few years before but this was the first time he explicitly told her about a man in his life. “Your new ‘boyfriend’?” his mother, Amy Kuga, responded. “He’s cute! What does he do?”
Mr. Kuga also told his sister, Marisa, about Mr. Kurtz. “It was his way of coming out to me,” said Ms. Kuga, now 24, while sipping from a beer bottle at her brother’s wedding. “It wasn’t a surprise to me that he was gay. But it showed to me how special this is. He finally wanted to put it into words.”
It has been a more complicated situation for Mr. Kurtz, who first came out as gay to his parents when he was 15. They handled it as lovingly as a strictly religious family might, he said. Still, it has been tough for all parties to navigate. “I don’t know if they expected me to become a rabbi,” he said. “But I don’t think they expected me to be gay and marry a Japanese Hawaiian man.”
While some gay men and women in long-term relationships felt an overwhelming urge to marry as soon as gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court in June 2015, some younger gay couples felt otherwise. Including Mr. Kurtz and Mr. Kuga. “A lot of us feel like marriage is not that important because it wasn’t an option for so long so it isn’t a factor that should determine the strength of a commitment,” Mr. Kurtz said. “It can be seen as a heteronormative idea.”
Mr. Kuga struggled with ambivalence, too, sharing his thoughts in a piece posted to Instagram a week after the wedding. “Growing up gay on an island during a time when gay marriage wasn’t legal, marriage was never for me.” he wrote. “I wasn’t sad about this. If the books I read were any indication, being gay just meant resigning myself to a certain solitude.”
When the men changed their minds about marriage, it was out of pragmatism. It was the summer of 2016, and they were lying in bed talking.
“‘I think we deserve the rights and protections that married people are afforded. I want to bury you,’” Mr. Kurtz recalled saying to Mr. Kuga. (“Romance!” Mr. Kuga interjected as the men told the story.) From that point on, they considered themselves engaged. A few weeks later they went to Chinatown to buy engagement rings and then posted the news on Instagram to make it real.
At first they considered a courthouse wedding or something very small. But then they decided they wanted to host an event that brought together the communities that had helped foster and sustain their relationship. This included the staff of Momo Sushi, Mr. Kurtz’s friends from Baltimore, a large contingent of people the couple met through social media and Mr. Kuga’s family — except for his father, who could not fly from Hawaii because of recent surgery.
Mr. Kurtz’s parents and three siblings were not there. The grooms had decided to marry on the fifth anniversary of their meeting, which happened to fall on a Friday, the Jewish Sabbath. Mr. Kurtz invited them knowing they would not attend because of Shabbat. “It worked out so that no one had to make any uncomfortable decisions,” he said.
However understated the proposal was, the wedding was not.
The third floor of the Strand Bookstore took on the look of a well-staged Instagram feed. Strings of bulbs hung from rare-book bookshelf to bookshelf, with the light bouncing off the long pink, white, turquoise and gold dangling tassels. One table at the center of the room had big jars of pickles. Another had tiered cake platters overflowing with doughnuts.
Amid circular periodical stands displaying paperbacks like “Vultures of Paradise Valley” and $750 copies of “The Book of Common Prayer” in glass cases, guests in crochet dresses and with large shoulder tattoos of eggplants sipped wine from plastic cups and beer from bottles.
The grooms kept the cost to about $10,000, and did so in part by relying on the Instagram barter economy. (For example, there was a photo-booth-like machine that a company provided to the couple free of charge, in exchange for a promotional post on Mr. Kurtz’s Instagram feed.)
After a cocktail reception, the grooms emerged, both dressed in black and wearing leis that Amy Kuga had brought from Hawaii.
They were married by Hector Marcel, a Buddhist teacher and Universal Life minister. He asked all in attendance to tie red strings around one another’s wrists in acknowledgment of their role in making and supporting the marriage.
“You are getting married to each other,” he said to the crowd, before asking the men to read aloud the vows they had written. (Mr. Kurtz wrote his in crayon.) Mr. Kurtz, who is 6-foot-2, and Mr. Kuga, who is 5-foot-7, never let their eyes unlock.
“I love this wedding,” said Guan Yang, the boyfriend of Mr. Kurtz’s book editor. He nodded toward the chain of linked balloons. “The amount of irony is just right.”
After the ceremony there were toasts, including one that took on the feel of a freestyle poetry jam by Janea Kelly, a longtime friend of Mr. Kurtz’s. She thanked the couple for giving the crowd an opportunity to celebrate love at the end of 2017, a year that “felt like stepping on a Lego in the dark.”
But it was Mr. Kuga’s mother who returned to the importance of communities, reminding the guests that bonds are created in different ways. “Adam has always been a part of our family, but now he is officially our son,” she said looking up at Mr. Kurtz. “It’s only taken 30 years to get a child over 5 feet 8 inches.”