The date is somewhat imprecise, as we didn't have—indeed, we were denied—the benefit of even the most modest civil ceremony or other recognition of the beginning of our life together.
We had met a year before, in graduate school, and decided to make our last day at Indiana University, when we packed our sappy James Taylor albums, bell-bottomed pants and other 1970s memorabilia, into Stew's green 1970 Mercury Montego, and headed for Chicago. That would have to serve as our anniversary.
We instinctively headed for Chicago, a big city, where we both could find jobs, and have a better chance of living a life relatively free of harassment from neighbors, employers, ministers. We sensed that anonymity, not celebration or ostentation, to be the key to our potential happiness as a gay couple.
Forty-three years is a long time. It still surprises straight couples. I suspect some of them, even those who consider themselves card-carrying liberals, can't quite believe that two people of the same sex could live together that long. Hell, some of them can't comprehend how any two people could stand to live with each other that long, never mind sex, religious affiliation or anything else.
Stew and I have gone through a lot. We've moved, bought and sold houses, been hired and fired, felt elated and crushed, made and lost money, and even separated for a couple of years when we both battled with alcoholism, some thirty years ago.
We went through these all-to-human crises a bit like fugitives, or second-class human beings, even as society's mores and opinions regarding gay couples evolved, particularly in the politically progressive canton known as the North Side of Chicago.
|When we finally tied the knot, in Stow, Mass., September 28, 2013,|
Rev. Tom Rosiello, officiating.
Wills and final testaments had to be constantly revised, refined, expanded and stored safely because the rights straight couples take for granted—property inheritance, automatic beneficiary benefits, and right to medical decisions, among others—were not ours to enjoy.
In a legal contest between a surviving "partner" in a relationship with no legal standing under the law, and a busload of greedy relatives in town for the burial of one of us, guess who had the upper hand.
I remember trying to visit Stew at the emergency room of a major Chicago hospital and being told "only relatives" were allowed to enter. I was eventually permitted to go in, but not before thinking, "I've lived with this person for thirty years or so. I'm as much a relative as anyone."
When the feeble concept of "civil unions" surfaced several years ago, I initially embraced it, thinking that was the best gay couples could hope for.
No. Was I to plea with the emergency room receptionist to let me in, because Stew and I were "civilly united"? What the hell is that? Why should Stew and I have to fly economy while straight married couples get to go first class, and for no reason at all except that's what the airline arbitrarily decided?
The denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, and subsequent separate-but-equal subterfuges, essentially deprived Stew and I of our "dignity," a central concept in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's arguments over the years in favor of equal rights for gay men and women, as elucidated today by Liz Halloran, in an article on the NPR website.
During this confirmation hearing in 1988, Kennedy—a Reagan appointee—was asked what rights come under the constitutional protections of individual liberty. He replied:
"A very abbreviated list of the considerations are: the essentials of the right to human dignity, the injury to the person, the harm to the person, the anguish to the person, the inability of the person to manifest his or her own personality, the inability of a person to obtain his or her own fulfillment, the inability of a person to reach his or her own potential."
Full dignity in the eyes of society, that's it. That's what Kennedy was talking about. The right Stew and I have to lead our lives, as we choose, without fear or apologies.
After forty-three years, the United States finally recognized our right to full dignity in the eyes of the law.
It feels good.