I never cry at movies. During the saddest of scenes, my wife will have tears streaming down her handsome face and I’ll be dry-eyed, shrugging. But the film about your life and your love story with your late partner, that made me fall apart. And I’d seen it before! But I felt like re-watching it this week would be some kind of tribute to your fierce work and huge case in front of the Supreme Court today, even if it’s just to remind myself how lucky I am to be 29 and likely going to see my marriage legalized in all 50 states in my lifetime.
I’m so happy you and Thea were married, Edie. Even if it was in Canada, and you never lived there, and it was tough for Thea to get around because her MS had gotten so bad that she needed an electric wheelchair. At least in Ontario you were able to hear that you were partners for life in someone’s eyes, making your own Edie and Thea figures for caketoppers and customizing your ceremony to hear that you’ve been dancing with one another for 41 years.
You were such a handsome couple. In the opening scene, when you’re commenting on all of the photos of yourselves young and smiling in the day’s fashions with suitcases piled on top of one another for whatever trip you’re going on, or standing on the sand of a beach house you’ve rented in the Hamptons, I can see your life, and it is all about each other. When you ask Thea, “Do you love that girl?” and she responds “Yeah, I love that girl. And the person who took that picture also loved that girl,” it’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever said. And when you’re floating in the pool to help her swim, or sitting on her lap as she wheels you both around the dance floor to “Love is in the Air,” I cannot fathom that anyone, Edie, would look at you in in the highest court of the United States and tell you that isn’t a love worth validating.
“I just like to look at the way she sits and the way she crosses her legs,” Thea had said to the camera. “I just love the look of it.” Your arms were always looped together in interviews, your glances locked, your kidding with one another enviable by any one who has ever wanted to find their perfect partner and stay in that honeymoon phase for their entire relationship. Not that it wasn’t hard work for either of you, especially as you were together in a time when you thought you had to try ex-gay conversion and live a life without love. I can’t have imagined that for you, Edie. Not after seeing how much you and Thea shared.
You couldn’t even wear an engagement ring when Thea proposed in 1968. People would ask too many questions. You wore an engagement pin instead, because you still wanted a symbol that both of you could recognize. But you got braver with time, marching on the streets of New York City, demanding equality, becoming domestic partners when it became possible in 1993, deciding that you couldn’t have patience any longer. You gave great advice: “Don’t postpone joy. Keep joy as long as you can.”
You had the joy of Thea until 2009, when she passed away, but still hold her in your heart as you face the United States Supreme Court today. When Thea died, you not only had to grieve for your partner of more than 40 years, but face the reality that you were being punished for your relationship by the very state and country you live in. You had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes to inherit Thea’s estate. That’s a lot of money, but even more injustice. You seem to have a lot of faith, though, saying, “The truth is, I never expected any less from my country.” Even when they created the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, while your love was alive, you kept optimistic, but more importantly, kept fighting.
And more than anything, you have decided that because you were in love with a woman for most of your incredible life, it’s worth pushing for that joy. “We did our homework, and we got here, and it’s joyous to be here,” you told The New York Times. “I think we’ll win if there’s justice, meaning they read the briefs and pay attention to the content. But if it doesn’t happen this time, it will happen next time or the next. But it will happen.”
Your optimism is enchanting, your story touching and your heroism enviable. When Thea was diagnosed with MS in 1977, you helped her through a cane, crutches, wheelchairs and instability until caregiving for her became a full-time job. You kept her alive. How can anyone tell you you don’t deserve the rights you’d have if Thea had been born male? How can these judges look you in the eye and tell you your relationship is not the same as theirs with their opposite sex partners? How can there be any denying that you’ve lived your life doing nothing but fighting for love and joy?
I just want to thank you, Edie, for sharing your life, for putting it on display for the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and for the rest of the skeptical world-at-large who doesn’t seem to know any gays or lesbians or care that we are second class citizens. You make me so proud to be who I am, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. Best of luck in arguing that your love was something worth recognizing and celebrating, because it was and will continue to be.