Commentary

08.06.14

Guest Blog – How Ohio’s Marriage Ban Affected My Family

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This guest blog post comes from Deb Green, who graciously chose to share her story of what it was like growing up gay and transgender in a small area from Northwest Ohio in the 1970’s. After finding the love of her life, Lillie Ward (Lil), they were unfortunately unable to openly be together. After 16 years, Lil was stricken with a fatal illness and passed away in 2002. While facing this devastating loss, Deb also had to endure further derogatory treatment since they could not be legally married in Ohio.

I called Lil my spouse, although we never were able to do any formal ceremony. We were committed to each other for 16 years. We said private vows to each other and wore wedding rings, so we always felt we were married. It was really awful to live secretly. We felt our relationship had to remain private due to prevailing attitudes of the time and because there were no protections from job loss. We also suffered threats of familial loss from her family if she ever revealed our relationship, so it was always a guarded secret from our families. Although my family figured it out easily enough – and it was actually simple to see if one just paid attention.

I realized I was gay at 23 years old and my parents almost put me in a mental institution until I denied the truth! My father was a WII veteran and didn’t understand what it meant to be gay and said he had never met anyone who was gay besides me. During my relationship with Lil, he once acknowledged that it was like we were married. This was a huge step for him and showed to me that our love could change anyone’s heart.

We had our entire wedding planned out, down to the music. Tragically, were unable to travel to New England to have a civil union performed. Lil fell very sick and was eventually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few weeks before she passed. I’m sure many couples have faced the heart-wrenching events that unfold when their loved one passes on, and their family is unaware of you and unsympathetic. I faced similar legal issues with Lil’s family. I lost rights to our home we owned together for nine years. I had to bear the entire cost of the funeral, despite being excluded from insurance settlements. I wasn’t even allowed to give a eulogy. I was taken to court over our relationship, was forced to divulge private, intimate details that no straight couple ever had to endure because of their legal right to marriage.

While it is terribly upsetting that we were unable to officially marry before her death in 2002, I hope that there will come a day when all of the LGBT community may have the final recognition, and closure, of our committed relationships. I eagerly watch the events that unfold in the courts today and wish every day that she had survived to see what has been accomplished.

Attitudes from back then have changed dramatically and part of that has been due to intervention from organizations like the ACLU who have stood up for families like me. I felt compelled to write and share my story. I know that for some kids it’s still a tough road, especially with the teasing and bullying, but I wish they all knew that it will get better when they become adults and this is because of the work done by the ACLU.

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