The Time is Now: Meet Paul Dombrowski and Joe Serio

If there was one thing Paul Dombrowski knew as he walked into a local bar was that he was ready to meet his dream man-and fall in love. “I had three qualities that I knew I was looking for in a partner. 1. They had to live in the suburbs of Chicago. 2. they had to have a great job. and 3. they had to be close to me in age.” Paul explained. “Little did I know, Joe was about to sweep me off my feet, and he was not at all the knight in shining armor that I had planned out. He was so much more than that.”

Joe Serio was a college student, living in the heart of Chicago. He arrived at the bar that Wednesday night with different intentions. “I wanted to grab some 25 cent beers with my friends!” Joe joked.

The men spotted each other from across the bar, but both were too nervous to start up conversation. “When I finally mustered up the courage to introduce myself to Joe, I quickly realized he didn’t have any of my 3 qualifications for my prince charming!” Paul said. “But I knew right away that I liked him.”

The men met up again for their first official date, once again at Hunter’s bar, where they met. It was August 31, 1997, and soon after, Paul and Joe became inseparable. “I was still living a college lifestyle, and Paul was incredibly patient as I finished my degree,” Joe said. “After I finished my degree in counseling, I began spending most of my free time in the suburbs with Paul. He eventually suggested we get a bigger place and officially move in together. I was elated, and so in love!”

As they grew to be more in more in love, bonding over shared interests in theater and philanthropy, Paul and Joe bought a home together in the Chicago suburbs. “16 years later, and we have lived there ever since!” Paul said.

In 2011, Paul and Joe became one of the first 30 couples in the state of Illinois to receive a civil union.  “I feel so lucky to have met someone like Paul, someone that understands my views and aspirations. We also both knew we did not want to have children, so our vision of a future together was in line. We are happy to fill our lives with our love and home we have built together,” Joe said. “We volunteer our free time to youth charities, and I have dedicated my professional life to giving back to the next generation-our community work has brought Paul and I closer together.”

While their adult lives together have been pleasant, both men experienced extreme levels of homophobia and hatred in the past. “All of the terrible things people said to me led me to think I would always been alone, and I could never have someone to love,” Paul said. “The fact that I found Joe, and we are so in love and have an amazing life together, is the greatest gift that I never take for granted. All that we ask is for the freedom to get married in our home of Illinois, and to show all the people in our lives that we are committed to loving one another.”

In Illinois, same-sex couples like Joe and Paul do not have the right to marry. “Civil unions do not carry the same clout in our society and it does not offer us the same protections as a family. I want to know Joe and I are safe in our home, and are treated as a married couple.” Paul said. Though their civil union is recognized by the state, they wish to make the commitment of marriage to one another, and to have that commitment respected by Illinois.


“Marriage is how our society deems a couple ‘legitimate’. We want that for ourselves. Both of us grew up hearing from people that gay people would grow old alone and never have love. The cards were stacked against us as a couple- but we succeeded. I just want to stand in front of our family and friends and marry the person I love.” Joe said. “Our families, our communities, our society and our state need to send a message that all families are families. LGBT couples are couples with real love, just as special as our straight neighbors. We deserve the same privacy, the same rights,and the same respect as any other couple. Paul empowers me to fight for that equality. It is something we deserve after 16 years together in love.”

CLICK HERE to tell your legislators to support marriage equality in Illinois.