When Jonathan Howard and Gregory Jones, both 29, first decided to enter the Ultimate Wedding Contest -- a competition co-sponsored by Crate & Barrel and Daily Candy that would earn one lucky couple a $100,000 dream wedding -- they were in it to win the fairy tale.

"It was just before Valentine's Day, and I'd opened up my email and seen one from Crate and Barrel, and it said 'The Ultimate Wedding Contest: Win $100,000!,'" says Greg, a clinical psychologist. "I was like, 'Jon, come here!'"

Yesterday, the couple, who are engaged and live in Washington, D.C., were crowned the second place winners, free to choose $7,500 of Crate & Barrel bounty for their registry.

No, it's not a cool hundred grand (that went to this happy couple.) But they're not exactly crying in the couch department either. That's because, for Jon and Greg, the road to the winner's circle hasn't exactly been paved with rose petals. In fact, on the way there, they were victims of a violent hate crime, harassed by a homophobic blogger, and both emerged new men as a result.

"We entered to win because we wanted to win a $100,000 wedding," says Greg. "We thought it would be fun. But now we call those our famous last words: It became something much bigger than us."

After the jump, hear how their story unfolded, the thing they want most on their registry -- and why they're proud to be Crate & Barrel's first poster boys for wedded bliss.

Lemondrop: When you say "it would be fun" were your famous last words, what do you mean exactly?
Greg & Jonathan: It wasn't that it wasn't fun, but it snowballed into something much, much bigger than just entering a contest. We were actually in first place for the voting for a little while, and that's when the blogs started attacking us. GLAAD stepped up and took us in. First it was our local chapter, the D.C. chapter, then the national chapter was supporting us, saying, "This is a good cause. These guys are really standing up for something that matters."

And who was doing the attacking?

Well, it's actually started again, last night when Crate & Barrel announced the winners. There's a guy who claims to be a Chicago police officer [Editor's Note: Click at your own risk. This blog contains some vile content], and in the beginning he was supporting the couple who won first place, advocating people to vote for them [instead of us.] He was drawing pictures of dildos and gerbils all over our photos. And he's got 6 million followers.

They shut down his blog after a few days, and everything was calm for a while, but it was back up soon. We really don't like to emphasize that part of the experience, though. We don't want to make the negativity a huge part of this.

OK, let's talk about something happier. What are you most excited about on your registry?
Greg: Jon really loves his cheese dome!

Jonathan:
Greg really enjoys entertaining, so it was to entertain and have a nice party. I don't cook; Greg does, but the entertaining was something we were both excited about. I like the cheese dome. I think it's cute.

And how did you first meet?
Through mutual friends in Boston, while Greg was there doing his fellowship in clinical psychology at Harvard, and we became close friends quickly. We were friends for a year before we first started dating. Then we moved down to D.C., and I think the friendship really allowed us to know each other a lot better and made us a lot more stable as a couple.

Your story that's up on Crate and Barrel -- about how you met, and why you entered -- alludes to the fact that you had to overcome some "hatred" in the course of your relationship. What did you mean by that?
Well, right before we moved to Washington D.C., Jon and three of our friends were attacked in a brutal gay bashing. Jonathan was left unconscious in the middle of the street, as a guy was bashing in his head, screaming, "Die, faggot, die."

The attack got a lot of attention. The police who responded were really supportive. They were able to catch one of the four people, and he pleaded guilty, but the judge gave him a two-year suspended sentence: It was his first offense. A lot of the [gay rights] organizations were really upset. Protests were organized. That's when we started getting really involved and standing up for equality.

It's hard to believe that crimes like this still happen.
Jonathan: Yeah. It was awful. But it really helped me stand up and say, "It's time for me to speak out about what's happening. It's one of those life-changing experiences. It's awful that it happened, and it's great that it happened."

Greg: The Advocate and other magazines picked the story up. And Senator Kennedy's team used one of Jonathan's blog entries in their speech for the hate crimes legislation. When we entered the contest, the people behind us saw the chance to take a nightmare and turn it into a fairy tale.

We began to become passionate about what it was standing for once we realized that this had become a platform to speak up for equality.

When did you officially enter the contest?
Greg: I think we entered just before Valentine's Day, and by February 27, we were up to first place. It was early on in the competition. We were one of the first same-sex couples to enter. The day we moved into first, I was talking to my future sister-in-law online, and we were watching, and my heart was flying. I called Jon, and I was jumping up and down, yelling, "We're actually in first place!"

We thought we would do OK. We didn't imagine that it would be like this.

What did it feel like to win second place -- and $7,500 toward your registry?
Greg: We really appreciate it -- it's great! -- but the funny thing is the way it's all snowballed, when we really didn't think anything of entering.

I mean, in D.C., we can get married. We were there on March 3 of this year, the first day they legalized gay marriage, and you could apply for your license. It was a really magical day. There weren't that many negative protesters outside. In fact, there was a group of students there, and every time someone started shouting something, they would start singing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" to drown them out.

We were the 20th couple to apply for our license. It was an awesome experience -- awesome since we'd already entered the contest, and started writing in favor of marriage being legalized. Everyone was saying, "You guys are making the difference." It was nice to hear.

Jonathan: The New York Times picked up the story that day and ran our picture. I was in tears when it came out. This has just been a crazy, amazing journey.

Is there anything you'd like to say to anyone who wrote all those hateful things along the way?
It's sad that there were those people, but the most important thing for us is to say thank you for all of the positive support we got. All of the people who were willing to donate Facebook status updates or write articles about us.

We also want to say thank you to Crate & Barrel because -- well, some people are just seeing the results and saying that's awesome that they picked a same-sex couple -- but it's even more awesome that they allowed same-sex couples to enter. A lot of people don't.

When the press release came out last night, the most important thing was what Crate & Barrel didn't say. They didn't say "same-sex couple." They didn't say "gay couple." They just said, "The second place winners are Gregory and Jonathan."

That's the message we really want to get out. So that -- and the teenagers who have been messaging us, and the mothers who have been messaging us -- it's made this experience worth more than anything either of us bargained for.

So, when's the wedding?
Our original date was 10/10/2010. We got engaged on the eve of the National Equality March, and we were hoping to get married on the anniversary, but now we're looking at April of 2011.

How about a honeymoon?
We've always wanted to do a group honeymoon! During the wedding you have so many friends and family that you don't get to spend the time with that you'd like. We'd have close friends and family all go someplace together. And we've always wanted to do it in Costa Rica.

Carrie Sloan is the editor-in-chief of Lemondrop. She wishes Jon & Greg a future filled with peace, love and cheese tastings. If you want to sneak a peek at their registry (or spring for the cheese dome) you can
do so here.