As we begin the second Obama Administration, many Americans - like the President himself - have "evolved" in their attitudes about same-sex couples. Though marriage equality is still a long way off - especially in "red states" like Florida - mainstream views about lesbian or gay couples have softened considerably. To an increasing number of straight Americans, the two men or two women who live next door, contribute to the life of their community and (in many cases) take their children to the nearby school are not friends or roommates (at best) or sinners or perverts (at worst). Rather, Joe and Bob or Kate and Mary are like any other couple: two human beings who formed a long-lasting, personal partnership that carried them through good times or bad.
It wasn't always this way. For the longest time, many a durable lesbian or gay couple collapsed because it did not have a legal leg to stand on. One of the horrors of the early AIDS epidemic was the spectacle of a surviving partner fighting a losing battle for his lover's person or property, against said lover's biological relatives who couldn't care less about their gay kinsman but who had the law on their side.
Many rights that straight married couples take for granted are not shared by legally unmarried, same-sex duos, thanks to the Defense Of Marriage Act and thirty-one state constitutions. For this reason, same-sex couples are encouraged to be legally prepared with long-term health care insurance and with durable powers of attorney, designation of health care surrogate and preneed guardian, and living wills drafted in addition to the standard wills that all of us should have. After all, we never know when adversity will strike.
Though those of us who are in committed relationships promise to love our partners through good times or bad times; when bad times strike we are caught totally unaware and, all too often, totally unprepared. This happened to me when Michael, my partner of 27 years, came down with a still-undiagnosed form of dementia.
In a real sense, Michael and I were the lucky ones: We have long-term health care, power of attorney and other essential documents (thanks to our attorney, Robin Bodiford), supportive families and circle of friends. But this did not make the emotional pain any easier to bear; not when the man you love became confused, forgetful or disoriented; or when he wandered away from home only to be found the next day, miles away. (Here again Michael was one of the lucky ones. Many mentally ill people who walk away from home are never found.)
Even worse was coming to the awful conclusion that I was not prepared to be a caregiver, even if I had all the time in the world. Working against my deepest feelings, I placed Michael in an assisted living facility last July, where he still lives today. Though I visit Michael several times a week - and take him out almost as often - at the end of the day I have to take him back. And then go home alone.
Though Michael and I have our share of problems, being a same-sex couple is not one of them. After all we live in Broward, the State of Florida's bluest, gay-friendliest county. In addition to the already-mentioned long term care insurance and legal documents, I work for a company that provides domestic partner benefits. (Here I refer to my day job, not to my evening and weekend job writing for LGBT publications and blogs that are, of course, supportive.) Michael's biological family, which in a dystopian universe could have given us legal hell and gotten away with it, is most supportive. Finally, the assisted living facility where Michael resides has been cooperative; and treats us as a couple.
February 14 is St. Valentine's Day; a day when couples and other romantic units celebrate their love, loyalty and devotion. This year, for the first time since 1985, I will sleep alone on Valentine's Day. But don't feel sorry for me. The man I love is still alive; and well enough to spend at least part of V-Day with me. (Thankfully, Michael still knows who I am; and still appreciates my company.) It will be a bitter Valentine, but a Valentine nonetheless.
I cherish the years that Michael and I spent together and look forward to the moments when we can be together; as few and fleeting as they might be.
(Broken heart graphic via Bigstock)