Friday, May 21, 2004
Carlisle's gay couples on the way to marriage
Minutes after filling out the forms, "giddy and bewildered," Nancy Garden and Sandy Scott of Ember Lane, and Karin Blake and Connie Tassinari of Suffolk Lane, all long-term partners and Carlisle residents, agreed to talk about being gay in a straight world, about family members who could not accept their life partners, about Carlisle neighbors who did, and about their wedding plans that "never seemed a possibility."
The following morning, couple 2116, Joan Rosazza and Claire Wilcox of Prospect Street, saw their two young daughters off to school and then made the same trip to Town Hall.
Life in a straight world
All three couples have been together and living in Carlisle for about 30 years. Until fairly recently all kept their relationship secret from all but a few family members, neighbors and friends.
"We worked and stayed in the closet," says Karin. As a lawyer in a large Boston firm, she never brought Connie to any social events at the firm, never talked about where or how she lived.
"One of the painful things was never being together on Christmas," recalled Nancy. "I would go outside on Christmas Eve and talk to the stars, and wish Sandy a Merry Christmas."
Karin and Connie can now smile at some of the awkward situations that threatened to unmask their relationship. Connie recalled that many years ago in Carlisle, in the course of a house project, some balled-up painting rags that she left behind the house ignited spontaneously during the night. While waiting for the fire department to arrive, instead of worrying about preserving valuables, Karin raced to "mess up another bedroom."
Today, all six talk about "living quietly" within the [Carlisle] community, where their neighbors are "wonderful."
Gay leadership and media attention
Despite their quiet day-to-day suburban lives, a number of Carlisle's well-educated, articulate gays and lesbians have gained the confidence to be at the forefront of the fight for equality. In 1982, Nancy, an author of books for children and young adults, wrote, Annie on My Mind, a story about two teenage girls who fall in love. Annie received a very positive response with almost all reviews enthusiastic. Ten years later, however, it gained national attention again as all copies discovered on school library shelves in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri, were burned in front of the school board building.
More recently, Nancy published Molly's Family about a family with two mothers. In 2003 she received a lifetime achievement award from the American Library Association.
In the media blitz of this historic week, Connie and Karin were featured in a front-page article in Monday's USA Today, which focused on the difficulties that older same-sex couples face in trying to provide financially for each other, including health insurance, social security benefits, nursing home care and other financial protection.
In Tuesday's Boston Globe, Carlisle native Robert DeBenedictis was pictured with his happy family on the front page under a huge banner headline that read "Wedding day." His mother, Lillian DeBenedictis, of Carleton Road, was shown smiling in the background.
Family denial and support
Nancy and Sandy met during high school in Providence, Rhode Island. As the attraction developed, so did the need to hide it. Sandy's family said she was not to see Nancy. Nancy still remembers ducking under the dash of Sandy's car.
Both Nancy and Sandy lost one parent at age 21. It took decades before either could speak about their lesbian relationship with the other parent. Nancy finally addressed the issue with her father just before Annie on My Mind was published. "He was very sad and asked, 'Was it my fault?' However," Nancy continues, "he is very fond of Sandy. He had accepted without acknowledging."
Sandy never felt she could speak to her mother about being gay. But now, at age 90, her mother tells Sandy, "I'm so glad you have each other."
Similarly, Karin's mother, after decades of denial, "now has hugs for Connie. It's a parent's relief that their child will be taken care of," says Karin.
Discovering being gay
In the early days, parents were not the only ones who found being gay hard to accept. "I fought it for a long time," says Sandy. "I dated half-heartedly in high school and college, hoping I would just meet the right man."
"In the first few months [of life] some thing happens to neural pathways," says Karin, emphasizing her belief that people are hard-wired to be gay. "I don't know anyone who has chosen to be gay. From an early age I knew I was different," says Nancy. "I knew I was gay since age three, or younger," adds Connie.
Together since 1974, Joan and Claire moved to Carlisle in 1976. "About eleven years ago," recalls Joan, "Claire said, 'There must be more to life than this.' She raised the possibility of adopting children. She asked me to think about it for a while. I knew I would not do this," Joan continues, "but as I thought about it and thought about it, I said let's go on with it." Initially Claire adopted both girls as a single parent. Joan later completed the family with a second parent adoption.
Abby, now 8, and Maggie, 10, were both born in China and adopted as infants. They are currently in the second and fourth grades in the Carlisle Public School. The family is completely open about the fact that the girls have two moms. Claire and Joan have nothing but praise for Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, as well as all the girls' teachers and parent volunteers. "There have been some good discussions in class," says Joan. Abby once brought Nancy Garden's book Molly's Family to school, and the teacher read it to the class.
Parents of other children, as well as Carlisle friends and neighbors, have all been very supportive of the family. Some young classmates have been curious "about their [Asian] eyes," but there have never been any negative comments about two moms.
The three Carlisle couples all plan to marry within the next month. Karin and Connie planned to be married today, in a very private ceremony for just the two of them at home before a Justice of the Peace who is the sister-in-law of a good friend. Still uncertain of what may happen in Massachusetts in the future, "We just have to nail it," said Karin. "We will have a celebration later."
Last month, before the state held training sessions for Justices of the Peace, it was not easy to find one willing to perform the ceremony. When Karin started calling, three JPs hung up and one said, "I just knew you people would be calling."
Claire and Joan plan to be married next Thursday, May 27, in Concord Town Hall, before Anita Tekle, Concord Town Clerk and a Justice of the Peace. Their children, siblings and a few friends will be present.
Sandy and Nancy are planning a larger event at home on June 19, before a Unitarian minister from Lexington. At last count, they say, the guest list included 28 adults and 10 children, and it was still growing.
After all the years of large and small frustrations, discriminations and deceptions, how do they feel? "This privilege was handed to us on a silver platter," said Karin. Realistically, she and the others all recognize that the battle is not over. This is a big step, but it may yet be undone. There may be repercussions.
But Karin's euphoria persists, "I feel that a great reservoir of anger has been tapped and released. I feel myself slowly becoming a different person."
© 2004 The