Freedom to Marry - After 25 Years

by Joseph A. Mustich

My partner and I are about to celebrate 25 years together on September 7. For the past year I've been wondering about ways in which to celebrate those 25 years. For the past month I have found myself writing "25" on pieces of paper and posting them around the house. I turned 50 this year so I've been with my partner, Ken, for half of my life.

As a little boy I remember my maternal grandfather referring to my grandmother not as his wife but as his "life." After visiting with us on Sunday afternoons he would say, "Life, let's go home," and when I'd say to him, "Don't you mean wife?" he would just look at my grandmother with a twinkle in his eye. Looking back now I know very well what he meant.

My grandfather was a quiet and gentle man, and my grandmother was a very talkative and engaging woman. My grandfather needed to get home early because he had to be at the fish market before dawn the next day; but my grandmother needed to extend her visits with us for as long as possible since we had moved from the Bronx to the "wilds" of Westchester. They were very different personalities but they fit together very well, much like Ken and me.

So while Ken and I live, work and have grown older together, much like my grandparents, the big difference is that their relationship and marriage was afforded respect and protection by society, and by local, state, and federal governments, much like the couples Ken and I perform wedding ceremonies for as justices of the peace in our small town of Washington, CT. But we're getting older, and we're very concerned about certain realities confronting us.

In "Why Marriage Matters—America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry," author and attorney Evan Wolfson finds that the exclusion from the freedom to marry unfairly punishes committed same-sex couples and their families by depriving them of critical assistance, security, and obligations in virtually every area of life, yes even death and taxes. To compensate, Ken and I have recently accelerated our estate planning with things like living wills, in part because the thought that I would be barred from his hospital bed, or from making medical decisions for him, after 25 years together, makes me really mad.

In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made the most conclusive rulings in favor of marriage equality. The justices ruled that the state's constitution commands equality for all its citizens and that it therefore requires an end to the exclusion of committed gay couples from marriage.

According to Mr. Wolfson, who is also the executive director of the organization Freedom to Marry, "The high court's thoughtful ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Health stressed the importance of intangible protections and benefits that marriage brings to couples and their children, described the ‘scarring hardships' caused by denial of marriage equality, and found that the government has no good reason for denying civil marriages and full equality to same-sex couples."

Each and every time we perform wedding ceremonies as Justice of the Peace for opposite-sex couples I feel those "scaring hardships" – especially when we sign the License and Certificate of Marriage for the town of Washington that's issued by the state Department of Health's Vital Records Section in Hartford; and I understand, in part, what women, African Americans and others experienced before they won the right to be treated fairly and equally in a democracy. So I wonder aloud, after 25 years of love and companionship, will Ken and I be "set free" in Connecticut, much like American slaves, and allowed to marry, and then will our marriage be recognized in other states?

The Massachusetts justices weren't talking about compromising equality or using another word either. In these excerpts from the powerfully reasoned and very readable Goodridge opinion they wrote that "anything but full marriage equality would confer an official stamp of approval on the destructive stereotype that same-sex relationships are inherently unstable and inferior to opposite-sex relationships and are not worthy of respect."

And the justices continued, "Each plaintiff attests a desire to his or her partner in order to affirm publicly their commitment to each other and secure the legal protections and benefits afforded to married couples and their children."

So as I continue to write down the number 25 and post it around the house, and as I continue to remind family, friends and colleagues about the importance of September 7, the date Ken and I met, perhaps what I am actually doing is publicly affirming what I already know deep inside of me, is that Ken is my "life" too, just like my grandmother was to my grandfather.

Joseph A. Mustich, a member of the Green Party of Connecticut, lives in Washington, CT with his partner Ken Cornet. This essay was published in the Litchfield County Times, September 3, 2004.

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