A Veteran's Love Story: "What Marriage Means to Me"
In the sweet summer of 1973, when I was in my late 20s, I met the love of my life. He was a cream-de-cacao man my age who reached out and gently took my arm as I circled past him for the tenth time around a large busy bar; and he said, "You might as well say hello...." I was smitten even before we spoke; so tongue tied by his handsomeness that had he not reached out, the next twenty years together might never have happened.
We could not have been more different ethnically, culturally, racially, religiously, and linguistically. He was an upper class Filipino of Spanish heritage, Catholic, from a South Pacific seaside province so remote that they did not get electricity until the 1970s. Born in the post WWII era into privilege and education, he was a prince of provincial Philippine royalty. He spoke several Tagalog dialects, Spanish, and liltingly accented English. In America, he was a mid-level corporate executive, very well paid, responsible for millions in financial transactions daily.
I was the child of WWII Holocaust Jewish refugees, who grew up in the impoverished inner city urban immigrant ghetto. My mother had been an illegal immigrant who cleaned toilets to earn a living when she first arrived in America. I grew up speaking German and a mish mash New York public school dialect of Yiddish, Spanglish, Harlemeese, and 1940s “Noo Yawk” English. When I met him, I was a reserve Army sergeant, active duty veteran, and DoD employee, used to being on my own and self-reliant to a fault. And suddenly, there was someone else whom I wanted to hug for the rest of my life.
Opposites attract. We were both intoxicated with each other's otherness and profound compatibility. The torch of love was lit, and I was no longer "I;" we were "we."
He had a closetful of elegant tailored suits; I wore jeans and plaid shirts when I wasn't in uniform. My ideal decor was rustic college-dorm bricks and boards; he loved crystal and suave elegance. He spent money like water via credit cards, self-assured that his income was limitless. I was accustomed to counting every quarter in my pocket to make sure I had enough money to buy lunch. My idea of a gourmet meal was my mother's homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes bathed in gravy. He was a self-taught master chef whose cooking won my heart through my stomach in addition to the way he tasted when we kissed.
We were so in love, we made it work for nearly twenty years of bliss. If I could have I would have married him; but back then that was unthinkable. We didn't need a piece of paper; we simply had unlimited love. And yet, the danger of permanent separation was a daily fear. My military superiors would have had a security heart attack if they had known that I had a same sex foreign national partner. And he could have had his green card revoked at any time by some bureaucratic bigot. A heterosexual military man applying for citizenship for his Filipina wife was as common and routine as could be. But, because we were both men, that was forbidden and had to be kept top secret.
Even today, in 2013, there is no equivalent right for a married same sex couple to apply for citizenship for a foreign spouse. That is because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) enacted in the mid 1990s to impose religion based prejudice upon America's civil law, forbidding federal recognition of same sex marriages.
When my partner died some twenty years ago, my world came to an end. Suddenly, I was a middle aged widower. But, instead of his family doing the normal thing of embracing his spouse, they came in greed to collect his stuff, OUR stuff. After all, they could pretend that we had merely been roommates even though absolutely everyone knew that we had been more in love than any piece of official paper could demonstrate. But it was the lack of such a marriage certificate that allowed them to show up with a truck and cart away more than half of our home, including gifts that I had bought for him. You might think, "Wait a minute; why didn't you say anything, why didn't you stand up for your rights?" Well, I was a wreck! I had just lost my entire reason for living. Half of my soul was gone; I didn't really want to live any longer. I had cared for him night and day for the last four years of his illness; I was drained of will; I had lost the battle to keep him with me; I had forgotten how to care for myself. And then there was the money, of course. Not being married, I had no right to a single cent of his substantial corporate benefits; and his family forgot I existed when it came to that. When we were "we," when we were together, we didn't need any damn piece of paper to be in love and live together. But, when he was gone, not having a marriage certificate made all the difference in the world.
During happier times, we had planned for many years to bring his old mother from their distant province to live with us. It was a perfectly normal family thing to do. But, because we could not be married, he had to do the immigration paperwork all on his own with his precarious 'resident alien' status. As a corporate executive, however, he was not without resources; and eventually the day came when she was to arrive at long last.
As we drove to the airport, I asked, "So, ah, what did you tell her, about us?"
"Nothing," he said.
And I blurted, "But, but..., I mean how ...., what will she think for God's sake?"
"Don't worry," he laughed; "It will work out. First she'll look around at all my crystal and elegant things and say, 'You are wasting your money.' And then we'll see what happens."
"Oh my God!," I thought.
So, we brought dear old mom home. She came in; looked around at his crystal elegance, and said, "You have been wasting your money!" Then she looked at me, she looked at him, and again at me. And then this precious old woman opened her arms, hugged me, kissed my cheek, and said, "My son!" That was that. She didn't care one bit about what other people might think; if I was the one her son loved, that was good enough for her. We became inseparable; we hardly spoke the same language, but her love was worth more than any words or piece of official paper. When he died, she and I held each other up at his huge grand funeral. It was a scandal, but neither of us cared one bit about any of that. We needed each other and no one else could understand the loss we shared.
All of this was decades ago; I've rebuilt my life, sort of, and have grown old sadly without him. I miss him so very much, even now, after all these years; but if this story can help people understand what today's quest for marriage means, then it will be worth having bared my soul.
This post was originally featured on the website Gay Military Signal.