On Friday June 26, James Obergefell, who was prohibited by the state of Ohio from listing himself as the surviving spouse on his husband, John’s death certificate, was granted a victory by the US Supreme Court in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. He spoke for about four minutes on the meaning of the decision for himself personally as well as for the country. My favorite part of his remarks was this explanation:
“It’s my hope that the term ‘gay marriage’ will become a thing of the past, that from this day forward it will simply be ‘marriage.’ And our nation will be better off because of it.”
Elsewhere in the crowd, in an Arkansas Razorbacks t-shirt and green John Deere baseball cap, my friend, Wes Givens, made a short post to Facebook:
Wes and his husband, Beau Boone, had been plaintiffs in the Arkansas case, Wright v. Arkansas. Wes and Beau had been traveling back to Ohio from Arkansas from to take care of Wes’ mom during her last years. On one of those trips, he and Beau drove from Ohio to New York and got married. They posted photos online and surprised a lot of us. Later, they joined the lawsuit in Arkansas:
Two years ago I was in Ohio taking care of my Mom who was getting weak. Beau Boone called and asked me what I thought about joining the law suit. What might happen and family and friends that didn’t know we were gay. I had a long talk with my Mom and she said join it… Everyone is God’s child and he loves you all. I called Beau back and we joined the lawsuit with Cheryl K. Maples. We have made some great friends through it. I love Cheryl and Melina Maples Granger. I know Mom is watching from Heaven with a smile today. Today while I was standing at US Supreme Court and the ruling came in… I started to cry and my phone ring my Mom’s sister Sharon called to congrats me on being a plaintiff and making a difference in the world. She really had me crying… We are all equal in Gods eyes… Beau and I got married Oct 24, 2013… Mom thanks for your blessing and it was a honor to make your wish come true to die at home. It was all worth it…
Wes and I have known each other since our teens in 4-H together. He taught me how to do fancy turns when we square-danced. We went to summer camp, leadership retreats, and parties in neighboring counties. After he graduated from high school, he went off to Ohio State. I used to tag along on road trips with his family and friends to go see him.
I’m sad to say that, for many years, Wes disappeared from my life. We had a parting of the ways sometime in 1981 or maybe 82. It wasn’t an argument–it was a lack of understanding on my part that I figured out later.
Wes tried to come out to me one evening when I went to visit him at the apartment where he was living. I was probably 18 or 19 at the time. By that time I had been doing community theater for about 5 years–my first musical, Mame, had 7 gay men in the cast. I had learned early to value them and care for them as people, before I understood what “gay” really meant, much less developed any adolescent prejudices.
But, still, I missed the point. I didn’t get that when a man plays Bette Midler and shows you some photographs that appeared in a magazine that there was a message I was supposed to pick up on. If he had come out and said, “I’m gay,” I would have understood clearly. But, as it was, it went right over my head. The evening haunted me–it still does. I came to feel bad that I did not understand and that I had not been able to be immediately supportive. But by the time I deciphered the message–I think it was figuring out the Bette Midler part that made the other pieces click into place–Wes had already moved out of state and we had lost touch.
I have always considered myself an LGBTQ ally–straight, but not narrow and all that stuff. I always trace it back to my community theater days and building relationships with men who were kind and generous to a too-tall, too-skinny adolescent girl with glasses, braces, and bad hair. I developed a crush on a high school boy in the play. At a costume-making workshop one of the more worldly girls told me, “You don’t have a chance with him–you know he’s gay don’t you?” Well I didn’t know that before, but I was grateful to find out that not having a chance with a cute boy for once had nothing to to do with the fact that I was a too-tall, too-skinny adolescent girl with glasses, braces, and bad hair.
I have had many other friends over the years who are gay and lesbian, most of them openly, at least around me. I have often been astonished and amazed at their bravery. Back in 2001, my colleague Burl gave a talk during chapel at the high school where we both taught. His topic: the hurtfulness of the casual use of the word “gay” as everything from a personal insult to a negative adjective to people, such as himself, who are gay. You could hear a pin drop during his talk and there was a standing ovation after it.
There’s a act of bravery.
And then there’s being a gay couple in Cincinnati, where anti-gay discrimination was legally protected through the ballot box from 1993-2004.
Or a married gay farmer in Arkansas.
I got to meet Beau about a year ago when we were both at the funeral for Wes’ mom. When I hugged Wes good-bye, I got all choked up and told him that he and Beau gave me a feeling of great hope.
They still do.
I’m sure they know as much as I do that marriage is not easy and they have faced challenges that I never will. But I am so glad that they took the risk that they did to secure that relationship for themselves. And for the country.
As James Obergefell also said, “Our love is equal . . . . Equal justice under law applies to us too.”
It is, indeed, so ordered.
Photographs: author’s collection, Facebook, C-Span.