I had been planning on writing this diary for a while, but could not bring myself to sit down and do it until now. In fact, Dave in Northridge’s diary from Thursday caused me to finally think of the things I wanted to say and spurred me on to do it.
Gary and I are from a smallish town in eastern North Carolina, also known as one of the most benighted regions of this country. These are the people who elected Jesse Helms time and again, and have installed a governor and legislature who have made North Carolina a laughing stock of the country.
We met in 2005 after he moved back to our town from Charlotte. We dated, and eventually moved in together. The notion of getting married, though, didn't really cross our minds. It was somewhat unheard of, and a seemingly futile gesture, as North Carolina would NEVER recognize our marriage, and at that point, we never thought the federal government would either.
We used to like to go the the Pride Celebration in Washington D.C. in June. It was nice to be around “people like us” for a change, and visit a real city, go to a bar or two and stay in a nice hotel. We were talking about going to Pride in 2011 when it occurred to me to ask Gary if he wanted to get married while we were in D.C. At that point, getting married was a formality, a pledge to each other of our commitment, but legally meaningless.
Well, we did the research and made our plans for our “destination wedding.” We told our families and gave them the date—June 11, 2011. Everyone seemed happy for us. When I told my oldest daughter about it, she said “Well, it’s about time.” I also have another daughter and a son. It was very important for them to come, and I received no pushback at all from their mother.
Of course, something HAD to happen to spoil everything. It goes back to late ’90’s after he had come out. Gary’s older sister got married. Everything seemed fine with Gary until she got pregnant. Gary bought some baby clothes and accessories and was going to drop them off at her house. When he called to let her know, she told him that her husband had decreed that since he was gay, he was no longer welcome in their home and was not to have contact with the baby. Gary was devastated. Not only had he lost a niece, but a sister as well.
Time went by and the sister had another baby. All of sudden, it was perfectly okay for the kids to be around Uncle Gary, especially when they needed a place to stay in Charlotte before their home was finished, or they needed a babysitter for the older child.
Fast forward to 2011. We had planned to get married the weekend of DC Pride, which was June 11. The sister told Gary she could not come because one of the girls had a ballet recital that weekend. That was fine, so we shifted to the next weekend, June 18. Wouldn’t you know that weekend was not good either, but at least Shannon told the truth this time—her husband did not want to expose his children to the spectacle of our wedding. Again, Gary was devastated, first by the fact he thought the matter had been settled and that the sister and her husband had been pretending to accept him all these years, but also by his sister’s refusal to stand up for him and for what was right. I don’t know that he ever really got over it.
We were married in Washington DC with his parents, my 83 year old mother, my other older sister, her husband and son, and my children in attendance. It was a sublime experience, and the happiest I had ever seen Gary. I will cherish that memory for ever, and am SO glad we did it, for reasons I will explain later.
We lived our lives like any other married couple, but for too brief a time. Gary had numerous health problems, the last being an intestinal issue that could only be treated by removal of his large intestine. This was done at Duke University Hospital in Durham in November 2012, and it nearly killed him. Due to what I consider to be malpractice, his internal sutures leaked, causing Gary to go into septic shock and back into the hospital for about a month. He lost 40 pounds, but finally did recover. However, he had to have an ostomy bag, which no one, especially a man Gary’s age, wants to wear. So, he went back to Duke in May 2013 to have the procedure reversed. Again, the doctor and/or hospital malpracticed and two days after he was discharged, Gary became septic again due to the sutures leaking. This time, though, the shock caused his major organs to shut down and caused him to have a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of his brain. Even if he survived the septicemia, he would never function again. He died at Duke University Medical Center on May 26, 2013 at the age of 40. Our gay marriage was over in less than two years.
We went to a local funeral home and the staff there was more than gracious, understanding and compassionate. Since we had not done so in Durham, the funeral home had to submit the information for the death certificate, which would then go to the attending physician for signature and on to the Register of Deeds of Durham County for recordation. Our funeral director did exactly as we asked, and indicated on the form that Gary was married and I was his surviving spouse. The documents were sent off to Durham, and it took a number of weeks before the actual certificate was returned. When it finally came, I found that the information had been changed to indicate that Gary was “never married,” and my name was redacted. Neither I nor Gary’s parents was contacted about this, nor do I know how whoever-it-was came to this conclusion and authority to change an official document. Our gay marriage had just been ignored and treated as if it never existed.
Again, I was not surprised. But just to push things a bit further, I submitted an official form intended to correct inaccuracies in death certificates, no doubt intended to correct typographical or other factual errors, but probably not the marital status of the decedent. I told them the certificate was inaccurate in that Gary HAD been married, and I sent a certified copy of our marriage certificate from Washington D.C. A few weeks later, I received a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services reminding me that same-sex marriages were not recognized in North Carolina, and that the only way the certificate could be changed would be pursuant to a court order.
I considered contacting ACLU or Freedom to Marry and becoming a plaintiff against the State of North Carolina to have the North Carolina ban on recognition of my marriage declared unconstitutional. But other plaintiffs had already taken up the cause and I was in no state to begin litigation.
Since then, the SCOTUS issued the Windsor decision and we have federal recognition, a HUGE victory. However, North Carolina does not consider us to have been married. Although I filed our federal tax returns as “married,” for North Carolina, I am supposed to lie and file as “single.” If Gary’s parents and I decide to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit, I have no standing because I am a legal stranger to Gary. Either his parents or the administrator of his estate must bring the action. I, his husband, am entitled to nothing, not even to be heard in court. Any loss inflicted on me by his death is irrelevant and meaningless.
Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of Gary’s death. I still miss him every minute. I miss his smile, and his caring and the way he made me feel loved. His parents and I have remained close. My kids still consider them to be grandparents. Tomorrow, we will plant a tree in Gary’s memory. I hope he would like that.
But no one is ever going to say we were not married. No one is going to say that our marriage was not “real.” It is the most real thing that I have ever done, and I am so glad that I was able to help Gary be happy for the time he had left. What started as a lark turned out to be the most important day of our lives together.