This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that will determine the fate of same-sex marriage in America. The court’s decision won’t come for months, but regardless of how the justices rule, David Von Drehle’s new cover story chronicles how, thanks to a massive shift in public opinion, gay marriage went from inconceivable to inevitable in less than two decades. To illustrate Von Drehle’s story, TIME invited same-sex couples in California and New York to share some intimate moments for photographer Peter Hapak. Two of these couples, Sarah Kate and Kristen Ellis-Henderson (married in 2011) and Russell Hart and Eric LaBonté (engaged since 2010), appear on our cover this week. (Newsstand editions will be divided between issues featuring the Ellis-Hendersons and those featuring Hart and LaBonté.)
Coming out to friends and family is one of the most important moments in a gay person’s life. Coming out on the cover of a national magazine is something else entirely, once as unimaginable to our cover subjects as gay marriage itself. “As we were driving to the shoot, I thought, ‘I’m doing this because I want my kids to live boldly and loudly and see what it means to stand up for something,’” says Sarah Kate Ellis-Henderson, who has a son and a daughter with her wife Kristen. For Hart, the decision to participate in a TIME cover shoot about gay marriage was a symbol of his decision to fully own his identity. After coming out to a supportive family, Hart stepped back into the closet while he was in his 20s, fearful he would lose a job if his co-workers knew he was gay. “That was far more destructive and traumatic than coming out,” says Hart. “The experience let me know that whatever I do, my sexuality is a part of my identity and to deny it is to be doomed.”
Some of the couples who participated in the TIME cover shoot are married and all are in long-term committed relationships. Jake Harrison, who was photographed with his partner Christopher Cunningham, is among those happily stunned at how quickly U.S. culture has shifted to embrace same-sex couples. “Growing up, there really weren’t gay characters on TV,” says Harrison. “To go from that to gay people on primetime television and out gay politicians is a huge evolution.” LaBonté, who graduated from high school in 1989 and celebrated his 7-year anniversary with Hart the day they were photographed for TIME, says he was taunted as a teen for being different. “But my 20th high school reunion was a real trip. Those kids that made fun of me totally wanted to come up and talk to me and find out what I’m doing with my life,” he says. “Now, I see high-school-aged boys walking around the mall or out in broad daylight holding hands. It’s hard to describe how that makes me feel.” Cunningham, who describes himself as “the modern, non-marriage type,” says that the fact that gay marriage may soon be legal across the U.S. has made him reconsider. He says he is feeling something familiar to many long-term heterosexual couples — pressure from family to tie the knot.