Maybe I Do And Maybe I Don't

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

He smiles wanly recounting the morbid catchphrase, but the humor is clearly a way to cope with a lot of grief.

"For years, I just buried all of that," he admits.

While actually getting married is unimportant to them, the right to get married has been just as urgent for Kevin and Howard as it has been for Jeanette and Kawane. They describe listening to George W. Bush call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in his 2004 State of the Union address as a wake-up call.

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.

"Never before, I believe, had anyone tried to take rights away in a constitutional amendment," Howard says.

Prior to that speech, when the (now openly gay) White House Political Director Ken Mehlman was trying to use gays as election bait in swing states, "marriage wasn't something that was really on our radar," Kevin says. "I didn't ever think I'd ever be able to get married, any more than I ever thought I'd be able to grow a second head."

Plus, he adds, "we came of age in the '70s and '80s. Why, as gay people, would we want to replicate the straight world?"

But once Bush threw down the gauntlet and tried to keep marriage away from them, it was war.

"When someone tells me I can't do something," Kevin stresses, "I only have one response, and it usually involves one finger on one hand."

"Just try telling me I can't do something," Jeanette says, almost matching Kevin's language word for word. "They told me I couldn't serve, and we got Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed, and I'm going back in someday. They told me I couldn't get married and we got that repealed. Next, we're going for [the Defense of Marriage Act]."

For Jeanette's birthday, the Tuesday before the New York Senate voted on marriage equality, Kawane had planned to treat Jeanette to "something nice and romantic." Instead, they took a bus to Albany to rally for marriage and lobby senators. (Jeanette says, "It was the best birthday I've ever had.")

On the night of June 24, the day of the big vote, Jeanette was at her job at the only 24-hour Starbucks in the city, near Times Square. Her manager told her, "'Your wife is on the phone.' And he handed me the phone, and she was crying and she said, 'Baby, they passed it.' "

Then Jeanette couldn't stop crying, and "had to go to the back and sit down for a half hour. I was a mess. I wasn't good for anybody."

The two men were no less anxious. Howard was at home, following events on television. And, despite the fact that he couldn't see much of what was happening on the floor, Kevin was seated in the Senate's gallery. He'd been camped out in the Capitol for days, vigorously lobbying for marriage with the group Queer Rising.

That night, Kevin was seated just a few yards from Brian Brown, the head of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. As the 33-to-29 passing vote was announced, Kevin stood up and cheered, as Brown put his head into his hands and began to weep.

Outside the chamber, in the cacophony of the Capitol's marble hallways, Kevin called his mom.

"Kevin?" she answered. "Are you in jail?!"

"No," he yelled to assure her over the din. He just wanted his 74-year-old mother to know that, for the first time ever, all four of her children had full-marriage equality in the states in which they resided.

And he "enjoyed playing the blind card" as he recounted that conversation in the elevator ride down, right in the face of Brian Brown (who assumed, as many do, that the legally blind man couldn't see anything at all).

After Kevin returned from Albany to the Chelsea co-op he shares with Howard and recuperated, the question of actually marrying each other never came up until their long interview with the Voice—not even while celebrating their ninth anniversary.

"I'm not sure why we haven't discussed it," Howard admits in front of Kevin. "When you're together so long, you stop talking," he says with a smile.

"Especially with the HIV, I wonder if we should get married," Howard adds, noting that they've spent a lot of money protecting themselves legally in ways that still aren't as binding as marriage.

"I mean, this was what we were fighting for, right?" he asks rhetorically. Any worries about their family respecting their union are "the exception, not the rule," so they're not too concerned on that front. Yet an hour at City Hall could have prevented every type of problem Howard ever had with his late partner Peter's family.

And yet, it's not so simple emotionally, and it's a step they're clearly not desiring right now. "We never did this saying, 'We're going to go out and marry right away,' " Howard says. "We won the right. Now, we have the choice."

Besides: "I was waiting for Kevin to bring it up."

Kevin hears this and replies, "Really? That's interesting," without adding more.

It turns out that although same-sex couples now have 1,324 new legal benefits in New York State, there are actually some big economic incentives for Kevin and Howard not to wed. Kevin receives state insurance for his disabilities, and marrying Howard would end that. While it would allow Kevin to go onto Howard's insurance plan, the co-payments for the drugs and procedures he needs could be prohibitive.

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