Billy knew Alan was dying. We all did. There was no use denying it.
You could see the signs: the bodily deterioration; a once-sharp mind addled by years of medications, now given to drink and depression; erratic, in some ways abusive behavior, a charming winking mischief now supplanted by fearsome, petulant outbursts. It had been decades since Alan had acquired HIV. He’d buried lovers and friends. He knew how this story ended.
But it still came as a shock. On Easter Sunday 2012, Alan, tired of the medications and deterioration and depression, tired of the growing monster of his ever-creeping mortality, shot himself in the chest with an antique revolver. Billy, Alan’s partner of 11 years and three months — his soul mate, if you believe in such things — and one of my closest friends, rushed outside to the backyard of their downtown Orlando bungalow, grasping at the man who was his husband in every way except title, begging him to hold on, to come back. There was nothing to be done.
And that’s where Billy’s yearlong nightmare began — not just the grief, though that was crushing and real, just like it would be for any of us, nor even the way that Alan died, so suddenly and violently. His was a nightmare borne of a legal bigotry that held Billy and Alan’s relationship as somehow less legitimate than the one my wife and I share — or that my ex-wife and I shared.
This is what discrimination looks like. And this discrimination has real, and painful, consequences, all in service of an ahistorical, fictionalized version of “traditional marriage.”
It needs to end. Now.
And it soon might. On Jan. 21, six Florida same-sex couples filed suit in Miami-Dade County, claiming that the state constitution’s prohibition on gay marriage violates their 14th Amendment protections. (One of those couples helped overturn Florida’s prohibition against gay adoption in 2010.) It draws on language used in the Supreme Court’s decision last year striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and falls along the same lines as cases in Utah and Oklahoma, deep-red bastions that, federal judges have ruled, are running afoul of the Constitution with their bans on same-sex marriage. (Those states are appealing.)
That this is happening, and that it may well succeed just a few years after 62 percent of Floridians voted for Amendment 2, which enshrined discrimination in the state’s constitution, is a demonstration of how far we’ve come, but at the same time a recognition of how far we’ve yet to go.
“In the 1970s, Anita Bryant told us that we were not acceptable at a time when acceptance and fitting in meant everything to a teenager,” plaintiff Summer Greene said at the press conference announcing the lawsuit. “Today, we’re here before you seeking the freedom to marry.”
Marriage matters — especially to those on the outside looking in, the thousands of same-sex couples who wonder what will become of them, of their houses, of their assets, of their savings, of their livelihoods, if the unthinkable happens, denied the most basic protections because of whom they’re attracted to.
I witnessed this scenario firsthand — one straight people never have to worry about, one that seems foreign and unimaginable to many of us — through Billy’s eyes, throughout this unnecessary ordeal. I saw the tears, the frustration, the hopelessness, the feeling that he had nothing left to live for. I drove him to the hospital when he had a nervous breakdown. And I saw him on the other side, when he emerged stronger, determined to fight so that no one else has to go through the hell he endured.
Marriage matters. Marriage equality matters. And we shouldn’t have to wait for a court to make us do the right thing.