If I referred to her as my “partner,” many assumed business partner. “Lover” felt too intimate, “life-partner” too clunky, “special friend” an abhorred remnant of a closeted era.
“Wife” would have made our relationship absolutely clear, but it was a word denied to us at the time.
The penalties for this extra-legal union were severe: Carole’s adored father, who was Catholic, refused to speak to her because of his faith-based objections. We both faced potential job losses if found out. Carole, working for the federal government, had to maintain an especially low profile since we’d heard of lesbians being fired once they were “discovered.”
Eventually, Carole and I bought a house together and combined our finances. Yet our accountant had to artificially untangle our taxes every year to file “single” returns.
In 1962, I’d married a Black man, and because I am considered White, our union was one that 21 states then considered illegal.
Even in Manhattan, the racism was intense: our landlady who lived upstairs yelled racial slurs at Julius whenever she saw him. For five years we endured her vile harangues, shouted from a second-story window each time he entered or left the building.
The ruling conferred a social legitimacy as well as legal one: White strangers who had felt free to grill me in public about our children, asking, “How did they get so tan?” curtailed their questions. Loving normalized us. When diners in restaurants stared at our unusual family composition (interracial unions were just 3% of marriages in 1967), I began to stare back.
Over time, the social pressure took its toll. Among my few interracially coupled friends, no couple survived the decade. After eight years, our marriage also dissolved.
Following Obergefell, I underwent a series of surgeries. Whenever I lay in the hospital for a week at a time, we were grateful Carole could stay with me, no questions asked. No one refuses a wife. Her presence, as well as her daily advocacy, helped me survive. Where would we be if she hadn’t been allowed this privilege?
More recently, as friends with Covid have entered ICUs, we’ve noticed that hospitals only grant those few precious minutes of visitation to close family members. Each time, we’re grateful for our married status.
We could end our lives like the “spinster roommates” of yore, subject to the whims of the other’s biological family. Legally they could be entitled to make all decisions about our beloved if she were incapacitated — and possibly our own futures if, for instance, they demanded a sale of our home.
After all, if as the justices ruled, abortion is not a right because it is not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” not written in the Constitution, then all of our other unwritten rights are at risk too, including the right to decide who we choose to marry — including when that person is of the same gender. Or a different race.
The vast numbers of us in same-sex and/or interracial marriages, supported by our allies, need to speak up. We can preempt any further Supreme Court madness by demanding our state legislators immediately add protection for interracial and same-sex marriages to our constitutions.
The measure would protect against such regression. But passage in the Senate is far from assured. As Loving affirmed, we need to secure our personal right to choose the people we love without interference.
During the complicated years of 2008-2015 when Carole and I were legally married in California but not recognized nationally, we traveled with our marriage certificate in our suitcases. Once we flashed it at a New York car rental clerk who had refused us a spousal second-driver benefit (It worked).
Mostly, however, we carried it for more dire situations when we needed to prove our legal bond. Although such a patchwork of marriage affirming states might be difficult to navigate, if Congress fails to pass the bill, sanctuary states might be our best option.
The recent Supreme Court repeal of Roe — and the risk to other constitutionally protected rights like interracial marriage and same sex marriage — threatens to return us fully to the 1950s.
I wonder and worry: Are they coming for my marriage next? My wife and I are determined to stand in the sunshine where we belong—together. If the right to marry the person you love isn’t a guaranteed personal liberty, what do any of our other freedoms mean?
Twice, I’ve survived the legal marital shadows, depending on the goodwill of others for my family’s safety. Twice, I’ve felt deep relief when my marriages were given the recognition they deserved. I’m not ready to face this a third time. I won’t go back.