Maybe I Do And Maybe I Don't

Gays get the freedom to marry—and for some, the freedom not to

Maybe I Do And Maybe I Don't

Kevin Beauchamp, 49, and Howard Orlick, 50, are both legally blind. Kevin is thin and wiry; his vision loss is degenerative, and eventually he'll go completely blind. For now, he sees a little through one eye, making out shapes when there is enough contrast. With the aid of adaptive software, he's able to read modified text when he's not too tired.

Howard is broad and muscular. Because of a genetic condition, he sees nothing in daylight. The sun's light acts on him like snow blindness. But at night, he has some vision. During the day, Kevin's dwindling vision is enough for him to get by with a cane. But at night, it's Howard who guides Kevin as they walk together.

For nine years, they've been together, relying on each other to get down the street and up steps and around corners, so that they could do what had been a major part of their forties—protesting for the right of gay couples to marry.

C.S. Muncy
Kevin Beauchamp, left, and Howard Orlick, right, on the terrace of their Chelsea apartment.
C.S. Muncy
Kevin Beauchamp, left, and Howard Orlick, right, on the terrace of their Chelsea apartment.

They carried a banner together in the National Equality March in D.C. (Howard admits that he worried about falling in a manhole.) And Kevin was arrested last March while participating in a demonstration that shut down the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street at rush hour, even though police didn't seem interested in cuffing a blind man carrying a white cane.

"The cops looked at me and passed me right by," Kevin says, laughing as he adds, "Of course, I didn't know that at the time."

The NYPD officers handcuffed Kevin only after another of the protesters complained, "He's with us! Arrest him, too!"

Both men have been hard at work fighting for gay rights in their forties. They each buried previous partners in their thirties.

Howard says that when his late partner, Peter, died, his family didn't treat him like a widower, even though "we were just like a married couple—the only thing was that we couldn't get married."

Both men have been through so much, both before they met and since they became a couple. Both have fought tirelessly for gay rights. And both celebrated with much of the rest of New York when this state adopted marriage equality.

Finally, Kevin and Howard could get married legally.

But now, they realize, they don't want to.

A month passed between Governor Andrew Cuomo's signing of the Marriage Equality Act into law and the first same-sex marriages in New York. During that time, while Kevin and Howard talked about their ambivalence toward marriage, other couples couldn't wait to get hitched, and were determined to do it the very first day it would be legal to do so.

Jeanette Coleman, a Southern Baptist from Texas, is a woman of mixed white and Native American roots. Her faith derives both from Christianity and the Cherokee tribe, of which she says her grandfather was the last "legitimate" chief (chosen by a "test of courage, not by an election"). Though not a small woman, she is dwarfed (in physical size, if not presence) by her partner, Kawane Harris, an African-American health care worker from Brooklyn.

Sitting next to Kawane in the apartment they share with their daughter in the housing projects adjacent to Lincoln Center, Jeanette shed tears while talking about how she can't "wait until the day when nobody can't tell me that this beautiful woman is not my wife." In every way that Kevin and Howard are squeamish about marrying, Jeanette and Kawane are confident.

It was a long and rough road that brought them to each other, especially for Jeanette, who was shunned when she came out by the church that was so important to her. "People literally turned their backs on me" when they saw her on the street, she says.

Like Kawane, she'd had a child during a brief relationship with a man. But she was struggling with substance abuse, and gave her son to her parents to raise when he was five.

Enlisting in the United States Army, Jeanette would serve as one of the first women in combat in the first Gulf War and become a sergeant, second class. But while she was working in military intelligence in 2001, she "was outed to my commanding officer, by an ex who wouldn't accept it when I wouldn't get back together with her." She was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, six years shy of retirement.

Kawane also has a child, a 13-year-old daughter she had when she was "bisexual, doing the usual thing: trying to hide my sexuality from my family. The only relationship I ever had with a man was with my daughter's father. And that ended before she was even born."

They met when Jeanette "saw her on MySpace. I cyber-stalked her for a year."

"You didn't cyber-stalk me!"

"Yes, I did! When I see something that I want, I get it," Jeanette says. She kept messaging Kawane for a year, until she finally wrote back to her.

The first time they finally talked on the phone, they gabbed for hours. Jeanette was living in Indiana and working in an auto-parts store.

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