Thursday, January 14, 2010

First a Husband, Now a Gay Widower

I find it ironic that I am grieving the loss of my legal husband, yet there is also a trial being played out in the Federal Court about the legality of a ban on such marriages. Unfortunately, the Court has chosen not to allow cameras in the court room, so we are only able to follow the proceedings through various blogs over the internet.

I understand that in today's hearing, the Court heard testimony on how gay relationships are found to be very similar to straight relationships. Who would have known? The testimony, by a psychologist, reported that studies have gound that the quality of heterosexual and homosexual relationships was on average 'the same' as measured by closeness, love and stability.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on either heterosexual or homosexual relationships, I can only speak of my own relationship. I was a single father, with three children, who met a wonderfully supportive man, fell in love, and married. If I, or Michael, was a woman, some how this would have been percieved as a wonderful example of the type of relationships that can only benefit from the sanctity of marriage. The problem arises when the relationship becomes described as a gay single father, with three adopted children, who met a wonderfully supportive gay man, fell in love, and wanted to have a same sex marriage. Why is this a problem?

Well, the first person who had a problem with this was Michael. Yes, my husband. Was he against same sex marriage? No. Did he think that a same sex marriage would take something away from opposite sex marriages? No. I'll tell you what the problem was. Michael didn't want to make me a widower.

When the California Supreme Court announced in May 2008 that gay couples could legally wed, we stood in our living room in shock. I remember the two of us looking like a pair of deer in headlights. My daughter was so excited by the announcement, that she kind of jumped the gun, and considered us instantly engaged. Why wouldn't she. Michael and I had been a couple for two years at that point. We were truly in love with each other. We shared a home, went to church, had a joint checking account, and were fighting cancer.

At the time that Michael was diagnosed with his brain tumor we were preparing to leave on an all gay cruise. It was going to be a non stop party from Long Beach, California, all the way to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In fact, I was out buying some last minute things for our trip while he was at yet another doctor appointment regarding his ongoing headaches. When the doctor told him that something came up on his MRI, he asked Michael if there was someone he wanted to call to be with him. For some reason his call didn't go through, but I received the message he left. The minute I heard his voice, I left the full shopping cart in the middle of the store. I ran out, got in my car, and began driving to the hospital.

Not knowing exactly where to find Michael, I began going from one office to the next. I explained that my boyfriend called about a serious matter, and that I needed to find him. The response I received was that they couldn't give me any information because of patient privacy. After going through this in more than one office, I through myself at the mercy of one poor receptionist, screaming out that Michael was in tears on the phone, and please be compassionate. She told me he was having another test, and if I waited in the room I should see him on his way out. Unfortunately, he left through a door outside the waiting room, and I we didn't see each other. I ended up having to meet him at home.

When we met at the house Michael told me that there was a mass in his brain, and that his doctor would be calling me. The doctor did, and told me it was very serious. He instructed me to take Michael to the hospital in a few hours to be checked in, as that he would need surgery. When we arrived at the hospital, a different one than earlier, we were asked if we had a registered partnership. We explained that we had not registered, so the intake worker quickly gave us some medical directive documents we could fill out. A few days later Michael had his surgery to remove most of the tumor. When Michael was released to come home we began to panic. He had been on his new job just under a year, and was awaiting his probationary evaluation. What if they chose not to keep him now that he had a brain tumor? He was a budget analysist. This could be a serious problem. We needed to quickly register our relationship with the state, get him on my medical plan, and speak to an attorney.

All of this could have been avoided. If marriage had been an option, we clearly would have been married already. So fast forward to May 2008, same sex marriage is announced as legal, daughter considers us engaged. Suddenly, we are a couple no different than any other. Of course, no different than any other couple where one has terminal cancer. Michael loves Dan. Michael doesn't want to leave Dan with the title of 'widower.' Michael and Dan discuss this with couples counselor. Michael realizes that Dan is asking to be a husband, not a widower. Michael proposes to Dan. October 19, 2008, Michael and Dan are wed.

Fast foward to September 13, 2009, Michael dies. Fast foward to January 14, 2010, Dan, in real time, sits blogging about his experience as a widower. Does the fact that were were legally married help me better understand myself as a widower, not really. I would feel my grief, married or not. Does the fact that we were legally married help others better understand me as a widower, likely. In dealing with all the arrangements after Michael's death, including the funeral home, life insurance, disability insurance, and bank, all I really needed was one document, our marriage license. Even though we had all the legal documents drawn up, not one person questioned my role. Unless you have faced the type of discrimination, and limitations imposed, by not having equal rights, then it is hard to clearly understand.

Since Michael's death I have found understand, and support, from both gay and straight widows and widowers. I have exhanged messages on blogs, and I have sat in bereavement groups. The only difference between myself and my straight counter-parts is that when the discussion turns to if we will ever marry again, my answer is already decided for me. My answer can only be no. I no longer have the right to marry. Does that mean I cannot be in a future relationship? No. That is for me to decide. Does that mean that I can never be a husband again? At present time, yes.

The day Michael died I couldn't help but think to myself that I was no longer part of a special group of people who enjoyed the priviledge of being married. I can only hope that one day soon, justice will prevail. That I, and all others, will be afforded our equal protection, and our equal rights, under the law.


  1. I have to say in communicating with you that I always looked upon you as a man who had lost his spouse. That you are a gay man was never a prominent factor. Having read this post, I am struck by the amount of discrimination you and Michael faced. I have always thought that widows and widowers are discriminated against in numerous ways. It is sadly apparent that you face far more discrimination and a lack of understanding than I and other straight people do. I think this adds another burden to your already full plate. And for that you have my sympathy.

    I am a true believer in the sanctity of marriage, especially when children are involved be a couple gay or straight. I believe that you and Michael accomplished a great deal in upholding your love for one another through getting married. You demonstrated the values of true commitment, love and devotion (in the face of life-threatening illness) to your children. And to society at large, you helped prove what is coming out in the court case right now - that same-sex relationships resemble the relationships between heterosexuals (research is needed to prove this?). I'd go so far as to believe that gay couples might even have better marriages, due to the fact that it hasn't been a right available to them in the past and can't be taken for granted.

  2. I have three brothers, all of whom are married. It always troubled me that though our parents taught us the benefits of a loving, and committed, relationship, I would never get to have it myself. That is why meeting Michael, and having all of my family embrace him was more than I expected in life. To then find ourselves able to legally wed, and dance with our mothers at our wedding was unbelievable. It was quite a blessing to experience what we did.

    I really appreciate that my being a widower is what you see. I hope that more people will be able to identify with my mourning, rather than feel discomfort with whom I mourn.

  3. Hi Dan,

    My heart goes out to you, not just as a widower, but as a gay man just wanting his right to love be recognized and accepted as 'normal'.

    I've written before about how rediculous I think this whole thing is - how can a country so far in debt dare waste so much time, energy and money on denying someone's right to marry? Anyhow. One thing you wrote struck me:

    "The day Michael died I couldn't help but think to myself that I was no longer part of a special group of people who enjoyed the priviledge of being married."

    I know this isn't really what you were probably trying to get at, but you and Michael 'are' married. No one can take that away from you. No courts. Not even death. He died a married man. You lost your husband.

    I know this doesn't help matters for what you may wish in time - but I hope that soon (very soon), should you decide to, and find someone, this will all be in the past and you will be free. Or, you can just move up here and hang out with me in Canada where it's fine by us.


  4. Thanks Chelsea. Canada here I come!

    I love what you said. That Michael died a married man. That really makes me smile. I guess I want everyone to experience the joy of marriage. It was a gift I will cherish forever.


  5. I just lost my husband of twenty five years to cancer, and we have two grown kids, ( men know) who have always stood by our side. We never thought of legally getting married because we where married in all sense Of the word. Ironically we send the kids to catholic schools, they did everything normal kids do, Richie our oldest even joined the Marines and did two tours for this country in Iraq, and Scotty graduates for John Jay with a degree in law. A perfect picture family until the cancer. Our entire life stopped and we began a new one, chemotherapy every week, lab works, nurses, doctors, hospital after hospital, treatment after treatment. I by his side, 24 hour a day, 7 days a week. I never left his side, not for a minute..on the day of his death he was in his bed, with our dogs and me by his side.. He went in his sleep. I thank god for that gift.

    During all his treatments, hospital stay, emergency room visits, labs, etc. Not one person ever questions our relationship or ever asked for documentation concerning my legal rights to make any decision. It was understood that we were/are married. Another reason to be thankful. We did not need a piece of paper to validate our marriage.

    But after his death I was thrown for a loop. I am not eligible to claim myself as a widower because gay marriage is not legal, even though we were not married it is still a shock. No death benefits, no social security benefits, no tax brakes and legally I.could have lost everything such as my home,car even my pets. The worst thing was that my children had to give written permission to have his ashes handed to me. All this and more... It is stupid that we are not allow to marry. We were lucky that we accepted as a couple by the hospital,nurse, doctors, interns, case worker, just everyone we came in contact with during that ordeal. But after his death I am not a widower in the eyes of the government. It is sad...I am ashamed of this government. We must be accepted as equals. Please stop the discrimination..


  6. i am so sorry for your loss. both of youre losses
    i would really appreciate if you could help me im trying to write a novel of a similar topic to your case, of a gay man who becomes a widower with two small children and the internet is not very helpfull and i cannot find any case like yours so i could really use youre help i could really use all the information you can give on how you over came the difficulties and any problems you had.
    with the most ongoing respect my email in if youre interested, if anyone is interested.