This didn’t appear on my “issues” page, and a supporter asked me to elaborate on my position. It is a tough story to tell, because it is personal. Finally, when the EqualityMaine questionnaire came in, I had to force myself to take the time to sit down and think through what I wanted to say. So, here is my story, about my own family.
My uncle Frank and his partner Jack have been together for over 35 years. Frank hid his sexual orientation from everyone in our family until my both my grandparents had died. When my grandmother died in 1987 and we were cleaning out her apartment, he brought Jack to help, and we met him for the first time.
Uncle Frank was nervous – he worried what we would all think. My sister and I got stuck in an elevator with Jack and a large bureau that day. We weren’t there for very long, but we joked around and discovered a man who loved my uncle deeply. Love does not discriminate, and neither did we. So for the part of my parents, my sister, and I, we accepted both of them without a second thought.
Through the years, to us, Uncle Frank and Jack were just like any other couple in my family. They came to holiday gatherings, weddings and vacation get-togethers. But there were roadblocks for them that straight couples did not have to worry about. When my cousin was getting married, my aunt was mad at Jack for some reason – and so his invitation was conveniently “forgotten”, something that would never have happened were he straight.
Little things like this would happen from time to time between my uncle and this aunt. It never sat right with me. To me, Jack was a part of our family. He made my uncle Frank happy. Frank always seemed like a better person with Jack around – he wanted to socialize more, and make friends, like Jack did. And he smiled a lot more. He never did those things before he introduced us to Jack, he was so reserved. Jack could get to know everyone in a bar in five minutes, and so he brought Frank out of his shell. “Coming out” is so much more than stating your sexual orientation in public. How can you really be yourself if you’re forced to hide such a significant piece of who you are?
They live in New York State, and so as of last year, they could legally marry. But victory for marriage equality came too late for them. Jack is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He is not considered legally competent anymore, and cannot enter into legal contracts, including marriages.
That once vibrant man who made my uncle smile and made friends wherever he went is not there anymore. He doesn’t remember us. And now my uncle has to worry about how to care for Jack and what to do if he dies first. What happens to Jack if my aunt or some other family member decides that the house or some valuables in it are something they want? This has been my uncle’s and Jack’s home for decades, and Jack could lose it in some extended fight in a court of probate. It isn’t like he would be able to mount a good legal defense in his present condition.
My uncle wants to make sure that Jack stays in his home as long as he can and so provides as much in-home care as he can by himself. They just recently took their last vacation together – a trip to Istanbul and a few other sites in Turkey. I loved talking to my uncle about their trip, but could hear in his voice that he already misses Jack – the Jack he has shared his life with.
I have never been okay with the rights of those two very wonderful people being debated. I wish we didn’t have to have a vote on someone’s civil rights… that they were just there. But here we are. In honor of those two people I love so dearly, who will never be able to have the right of marriage that I share with my husband, I will vote YES on what I assume will be Question One, and I will challenge anyone who thinks we should do otherwise.