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    Every Moment a Marriage Equality Moment: Breakfast with My Dad at His Retirement Community

    By Stuart Gaffney–

    You never know for sure what awaits you at breakfast time at my 96-year-old dad’s Southern California retirement community, where John and I visited over the recent Presidents’ Day weekend. And I don’t mean whether it’ll be fried eggs or pancakes; I mean the conversation around the breakfast table.

    One morning my dad, my sister (who was also visiting), John, and I dined with two other residents: Mr. and Mrs. Paulson, a couple I had met on a previous visit with my dad on my own. Our breakfast was unremarkable. I introduced John and my sister to the Paulsons, who told us about their children and grandchildren, not an unusual experience.

    On the final morning of our visit, John skipped breakfast, and by chance my dad and I ate with the Paulsons again. We soon learned that our prior breakfast with the Paulsons had been anything but ordinary for them.

    A few minutes after we sat down, Mrs. Paulson turned to me and asked, “Was that your wife we met yesterday?” I said, “No, you may be thinking of my sister. You met my husband John at breakfast the other day.”

    Mrs. Paulson looked at me puzzled and said, “Why do you call him your husband, when that’s against the will of God?” Taken aback, I explained, “I call him my husband because we love each, we’re spending the rest of our lives together, and we’re legally married.”

    She turned to her husband and asked, “That’s not the same as our marriage, is it?” Mr. Paulson, apparently knowing the desired response, responded, “No.” At which Mrs. Paulson continued on with me: “Why do you call it a legal marriage, when it’s not recognized by our church?” I explained, “We weren’t married in your church. We were married in City Hall, and our marriage is legally recognized in all 50 states.” She persisted, “But why would you want to get married when it goes against the Bible?”

    “We got married for the same reason that most people do—we love each other, we’re committed to each other, and we’re spending our lives together,” I said. “Marriage comes with many rights and responsibilities, and that’s part of how we are able to care for each other in sickness and in health. We are married under the law.”

    Befuddled and clearly not getting the answer she wanted, Mrs. Paulson turned to my father who had been listening intently but had said nothing. Her eyes seemed to say to my dad, “Do you hear what I’m hearing? Surely as his father you’re not OK with this?”

    Not missing a beat, Dad met her gaze and said, “And they can legally adopt children too!”

    At that, Mrs. Paulson returned to her bacon and eggs.

    After breakfast, Dad said nothing to me about what had transpired and proceeded to his room to take his morning nap. When John and I finished packing and returned to his room to say goodbye, I awakened Dad from his slumber. Before I could say anything, Dad, still half-asleep, exclaimed with a wry smile, “Be sure to tell John what happened at breakfast! You handled it expertly.”

    I responded that he had too. “We’re a team. We’re a family.”

    I told Dad, “I love you.” He said, “I love you too. More than ever.”

    Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on February 27, 2020