Finding Devout Faith in Each Other

It was at the memorial mass of Tom Shea’s mother, in February 2018, that Dan Elliott realized he was falling in love.

The two men had met through OkCupid in April 2017, and had been dating somewhat intermittently, as Mr. Shea lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while Mr. Elliott was then a resident of Paoli, Pa.

But when Mr. Elliott, who had lost a partner of 38 years just a few years before, sat in a church in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., and heard Mr. Shea speaking of his mother’s faith, he was moved.

“He knew how to talk about faith and belief, and it wasn’t sentimental,” said Mr. Elliott, whose commitment to Roman Catholicism had been shared by his late partner. “I think that was the thing that struck me the most. We had not talked a lot about religion before, but it helped me understand that he had no problem accepting someone being devout.”

He may not be “as devout” as Mr. Elliott, Mr. Shea said, “but I was an altar boy my entire childhood.” (He snorted at Mr. Elliott’s characterization of him as an “Easter and Christmas Catholic.”)

Soon after the memorial service, the two agreed to be exclusive. They found that they got along extraordinarily well.

“We’re both sort of easy going with each other and I’m not easy going with a lot of people,” said Mr. Shea, 55, the senior adviser at New Paradigm Agency, a communications and public affairs consultancy in Washington. He has spent most of his professional life working on political campaigns and on the staff of politicians. He graduated from Trenton State College, now known as the College of New Jersey.

“The thing that is most special about Dan is that he’s smarter than you but he never makes you feel like he’s smarter,” Mr. Shea said. “He’s nicer, but he never makes you feel like he’s nicer. He’s more pious but he never makes you feel like he’s more pious. Dan’s probably the only person I know who went to Harvard who I’ve never heard tell anyone that he went to Harvard.”

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Mr. Elliott, 71, retired as the library and archives director at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and spent most of his career specializing in rare books and library administration. He graduated and received a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He also received a master’s degree in classical philology from Harvard.

He appreciated both the subtler and more apparent qualities of Mr. Shea. “The thing that struck me most was his integrity, his honesty, his kindness,” he said. “He’s very articulate and he’s a really sweet man. And he’s also very handsome.”

Over time, Mr. Elliott began to accept the fact that he would have to let go of his hope for a union blessed by his church (the reason he never wed his late partner was because they could not be married there). He and Mr. Shea, who now share a primary residence in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., decided to exchange vows on the European island of Malta, a country with progressive gay rights.

After postponing their original April 2021 date because of travel difficulties at the time, they finally wed Sept. 17 at the Palazzo Falson, a house museum in Mdina, Malta. They had 12 guests, most from the United States but several from Europe. All guests were fully vaccinated, as Malta requires that of international visitors. Roberta Gatt, a Maltese marriage registry officer, officiated.

Mr. Elliott reflected on how he had grappled with the fact that this would not be a Catholic ceremony. “I was pretty sure that the church wasn’t going to make any changes,” he said. He recalled the advice of a priest friend in the church who “was very accepting of my previous relationship with my partner.”

“He just said, ‘Look, you have to play the cards you were dealt in life.’ And I think that’s what let me do this.”