On the Cusp of
Long ago when I was still a soldier boy, I had a husband, much beloved. Not that we were actually married; that was beyond imagination back then. As far as we were concerned, we didn't need any damn piece of paper to keep us together. We had our love and our insatiable passion for each other even after two decades together. We'd worked out all the pragmatic domestic details without having any official document declaring our bond. We shared all the household expenses, we went shopping together; he cooked, fabulously; and I washed the dishes. We talked, we argued, then we went to bed and slept wrapped around each other, feeling ever so safe in each other's arms. It was as simple as that.
Of course, it wasn't that simple at all. For one thing, he was what bureaucrats called 'a resident alien.' He was perfectly legal, he had a green card and was, in fact, a corporate executive. But, at any time, some bigoted bureaucrat could have decided that he didn't deserve to live here and deported him. How would I have been able to live without him! And, of course, I was a Sergeant First Class in the US Army with a lot of responsibility, respect, and a security clearance. This was decades before Don't Ask Don't Tell, even. Just imagine what my superiors would have thought if they knew that I had a same-sex non US citizen partner! I tried very hard not to think about it, but the thought and fear were always there. Catastrophe was always just one little misstep away. What if someone saw us together in the supermarket? What if, what if, what if!
All of that was when all was well. When he became ill, we had to deal with hospital bureaucracy, rules, assumptions, attitudes, and having no rights whatsoever. And when I needed time off duty to care for him and sit at his bedside and worry, what the hell was I supposed to say to my commanding officer? Imagine: "Yes Sergeant?" "Um, Sir, Colonel, um my uh... 'f-friend' is very ill and uh...." At which point I would have burst into tears in a very un-soldier-like manner. Then the Colonel, who was no dummy, would have figured it all out in an instant and started to sweat imagining what the hell he was going to do without his sergeant and.... . I never asked, it was unthinkable!
And when he died, I had no papers, no rights whatsoever, nothing. I was, what, a housemate at best. At the time, I couldn't even think about Our Stuff, money, death benefits or any of that. All I could think of was how the hell was I going to be able to live without him. The legal problems came flooding in right away, of course, whether I was ready to deal with them or not. A few friends did try to help out, but all of a sudden everyone happened to be busy. And relatives? Well, relatives could simply not understand or find it in their hearts to have any respect for our relationship at all. They simply weren't there for me. I was on my own. All of this was decades ago; somehow, I got through it; not very bravely, but because I had to.
All right, I'm going to stop the story there; if you've read this far, you are quite kind and courageous. It's been more painful than I'd imagined to tell it, even all these years later. The point is that, as of this writing in mid January, the U.S. Supreme Court at long last announced that they will consider the constitutionality of our right to marriage in every state of the Union. Finally. And so I started to think about what it might have been like had my lover and I been able to have been married. I wondered what it would have been like if I could have been openly gay, back then, while proudly and patriotically serving my nation!
We sergeants have always been called, 'the backbone of the Army.' What if the Army had had my back when my 'husband' was ill and dying? What if I had had all the rights, privileges, and benefits of a normal 'military family' back then? How much easier it would all have been! I would have been 'offered' leave without even having to ask for it. My commanding officer would have 'done his duty' and attended the funeral of his sergeant's husband. Am I getting carried away? Just imagine all the normal benefits a patriotic volunteer in our nation's armed forces has when a spouse becomes ill and passes away.
Its as simple as that. All these years later, It just makes me cry to know that now, at last, we're on the cusp of marriage equality in America. It makes me think that maybe there was some point to all the sacrifice and suffering.
-Just the thoughts of one grumpy old gay vet.