NEW YORK — Gustavo Archilla, whose marriage in Canada in 2003 after almost six decades of a quiet and committed relationship inspired supporters of same-sex marriage, died Nov. 27 on Marco Island, Fla., where he lived. He was 96.
The cause was complications of an aneurysm of the aorta, his niece Christina Dean said.
Mr. Archilla was strolling across Columbus Circle in New York in September 1945 when he met Elmer Lokkins. The men fell in love quickly, but not publicly.
For 58 years, they lived together in Manhattan at a don’t-ask-don’t-tell distance from the rest of the world — stable and secure in their mutual devotion but expertly practiced at not drawing attention to it, even as they lived for many years in the same house with some of Mr. Archilla’s younger siblings.
In time the secret became harder to keep. They were mostly accepted by their families, but their relationship was not openly discussed.
“Uncle Gus and Uncle Elmer,’’ their expanding collection of nieces and nephews called them, with not everyone realizing that the gregarious men who went everywhere together and were happy to take the children to the museum or the park were more than friends.
‘‘Whether they were behind the door or out of the closet, it didn’t matter to them,’’ Dean said. ‘‘They just enjoyed life.’’
Then, well into their 80s, they married, eloping to Canada in 2003 shortly after same-sex marriage became legal there. For the first time, they began showing affection for each other in public. They marched in gay rights parades, including the annual Wedding March in New York.
‘‘Canada made it possible for us,’’ Mr. Archilla told a Wedding March crowd in 2007. ‘‘I hope everywhere else it will soon be possible. Maybe while we are still alive, though there is not much time left.’’
News organizations sought them for interviews. In a 2003 article in The New York Times, Mr. Archilla said of their decision to marry: ‘‘What we did was finally cap it all up — make it seem complete. It was about fulfilling this desire people have to dignify what you have done all your life — to qualify it by going through the ceremony so that it has the same seriousness, the same objective that anybody getting married would be entitled to.’’
Gustavo Abimael Archilla was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, the oldest of nine surviving children. His father, a Presbyterian minister, moved to New York when Gustavo was a boy, and his family soon followed.
Mr. Archilla’s mother died shortly after leaving Puerto Rico, and his father died when Mr. Archilla was a young man. Mr. Archilla became the primary caretaker for his younger siblings, working as an elevator operator, a waiter, a window decorator — whatever made ends meet.
After Lokkins became the registrar of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Mr. Archilla got a job as his assistant. They both retired in the 1970s.
Mr. Archilla and Lokkins moved to Marco Island in 2010 to be near Dean after their health declined. In addition to Lokkins and Dean, Mr. Archilla leaves a brother, Eliel, and a large extended family.
Dean said her uncle closely followed the recent election, in which voters in three states approved same-sex marriage. ‘‘He was watching it on TV every day,’’ she said. ‘‘He was all excited about it.’’