Tom Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone were young and in love. Together for six years, they were devoted to each other. In 2011, Tom, 29, died in a freak accident. What happened next was equally horrific.
The events which followed Tom's death would not have occurred had marriage been available to Shane and Tom prior to Tom's death. By the time marriage equality permanently returned to the Golden State in 2013, Tom was two years in his grave.
Tom and Shane had been texting each other on that horrible day. Tom was standing on the roof of their Los Angeles apartment building. He laughed as his beloved Shane warned him to be careful. A few minutes later, Tom fell to his death four stories below.
A heartbroken Shane soon found himself shut out of his partner's funeral by Tom's parents -- Shane actually received death threats. Personal mementos of their life together were taken from him, and because they'd been unable to marry, Shane had no legal recourse.
"I used to be okay with having legal rights without marriage," Shane told SF Weekly via phone. "But not anymore. No one will respect domestic partnership like they do marriage. I dreamed of getting married. Like most people, it wasn't about the protections, it was about the symbol. When my partner passed away, I realized how different it might have been had we married."
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Shane told his story via YouTube. Millions watched, including Linda Bloodworth Thomason, creator of the TV series Designing Women. The result was Thomason's feature length documentary Bridegroom. Shane, his family, and the couple's friends all participated in the making of the film. Bridegroom's family was noticeably M.I.A.
"I was hoping they would participate," Shane said. "We reached out to them several times, but they didn't respond. Tom does have relatives who are supportive and encourage me, but they couldn't participate because of the family."
The finished film attracted a great deal of attention; it won awards on the film festival circuit, and caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey, who broadcast it on her OWN network in October. Shane has taken comfort in the responses he's gotten.
"I've heard from thousands of people who went through something similar," he said. "I realized how often these things happen."
There won't be a dry eye in the house when, on camera, Shane visits Tom's grave at a time he knows no one else will be there. Tom's marker stands between the gravestones of his still living parents, a final attempt to keep Shane away. Amazingly, Shane says that he's doing okay.
"I'm in a much better place," he said."The YouTube video and the film helped me heal. Knowing how the film is resonating with people makes me feel good and that I'm doing the right thing."
Will Shane Bitney Crone be able to love again?
"I'm not going to purposely shut myself off," he says. "I didn't plan to meet Tom, it just happened. If it happens again, it'll be organically. I just hope that by sharing my story, it'll inspire others to share theirs. Personal stories change hearts and minds."
Bridegroom is now available on DVD.