With Wedding, a Cable News First

By Gail Shister 

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Abner and Roberts, joined by black lab/border collie mix Riley and Pitbull/lab mix Roxie Photo Credit: Ryan Scherb

Like any first-time groom, MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts has the jitters.

“Hell, yeah, I’m nervous,” says Roberts. “I need to visualize this evening going off without a hitch.  Right now, it’s all on paper – check writing, food decisions. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, on the day of, I’ll be really nervous.”

Roberts and Patrick Abner, of Merck Pharmaceuticals’ HIV/AIDS division, will tie the knot Sept. 29 before some 150 guests at an undisclosed Manhattan hotel on Park Avenue. The couple, both 39, have been together 12 years.

Roberts is the first cable anchor to legally marry someone of the same sex.

His colleague, Rachel Maddow, and Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon of CNN are all coupled, but technically single.

The Roberts-Abner wedding will not be a lavish affair — Business attire, buffet, lots of dancing. “We want it to be more like a Park Avenue cocktail party,” Roberts says. “We didn’t want to overdo it. We want it to be all the fun and none of the fuss. It suits our personalities.”

Another reason: “I’m cheap,” Roberts admits. “My dad always liked the term ‘cost effective.’ Neither one of us comes with a dowry. We have a number, and we’re sticking to it. We had to draw the line somewhere. Like a lot of American couples, money’s tight. We didn’t want to start out with a serious debt.”

Numerous surprises are planned, Roberts says, including a heavyweight officiate for the “simple” ceremony. The grooms’ siblings, along with Roberts’ best friend, will stand up for them.

The wedding has been a long time coming, Roberts says. In May 2008, when the California Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, the couple, then living in L.A., planned to make it official. They waited too long, however, and the decision was overturned that November. “We didn’t act fast enough, and we’ve always regretted that,” he says.

Not this time. “Now that we have marriage equality in New York, I truly believe in my heart that it’s not going away,” says Roberts, who joined MSNBC in December 2010. “The minute that it became law last summer, we wanted to get married in the fall, but it was too fast.”

Given his acquaintance with visuals, Roberts has been hitting the gym and watching his calories as the big day approaches. “You have to live with wedding pictures for a lifetime,” he explains. “I want to look damn good. I think all people do.

“I’ve definitely trimmed down. I gain weight like a tree trunk – I grow wider in all areas.”

The lovebirds met cute in 2000. Roberts, then at WAVY in Norfolk, VA., was invited by a mutual friend to a going-away party in Charlotte, N.C., for someone Roberts had never met. The stranger turned out to be Abner. They’ve been together ever since.

Roberts, who came out publicly in 2006, has no qualms about discussing his nuptials. “I’m confident and comfortable with who we are and where we are. I don’t have a problem talking about it. The more people that do, the better. … The world will continue to rotate on its axis. We’re all on this big rock together.”

Growing up, Roberts never thought he’d be able to marry the person he loved and build a life together. “As a gay kid, that’s heartbreaking,” he says. “It’s been hard to dream of a day like today. I’ve had to play catch up in my head, in a lot of ways, to realize that this is achievable.”

The couple plans to honeymoon in South America.