My friend Bervin is a retired serviceman who has helped Teresa and me in our assorted yards in the houses we’ve lived in for the fourteen years we’ve been living together. I’m not sure how old he is…my guess is he’s in his mid to late fifties. He is divorced and doesn’t have children of his own but has tons of nieces and nephews that he loves dearly. He took care of his father for a number of years until his dad passed away the same year my mother died. Bervin and I talk politics and football regularly when he comes to our house to work on one of his days off from his full-time job at Wal-Mart. He is a tall handsome African-American man with a soothing voice.
This morning Bervin called me to say he’d seen Teresa and me on the news last night. He called to tell us congratulations on our marriage license and added “ain’t nothing wrong with that. No, nothing.”
Austin is a seventeen-year-old senior at Montgomery High School in Montgomery, Texas. He was our next-door neighbor on Worsham Street for the last year we had our house there. Austin is a terrific baseball player and recently got a scholarship to go to Angelina College in Texas next year. He is a scholar athlete with super good grades to go with his good looks and other talents. He used to come visit me sometimes and often brought food that his mother Melina had cooked and sent to me. We moved from Worsham this past April, and I miss our talks.
Yesterday Austin sent me a text that said “hey mrs. Sheila I’m proud and happy for you and mrs. Teresa! love you both!”
From Bervin and Austin and our neighbors across the street on Canterbury Road to family and friends in Texas and South Carolina to cyberspace friends in Mexico, South Africa, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada… from friends in the USA in California on the west coast to New York on the east coast and everywhere in between – literally from sea to shining sea… we have received incredible messages of love and support over the past two days as the State of South Carolina became the 35th (or 34th depending on who’s counting!) state to make same-sex marriage legal. Personal translation: Teresa and I were issued a marriage license by Richland County Probate Judge Amy McCullough late yesterday afternoon in the midst of an avalanche of good wishes.
We have been touched and overwhelmed by the media and social media response and are beyond grateful for the support. Teresa refuses to watch the TV interviews on the internet because she was unprepared to actually go into the courthouse yesterday morning. I was going by to pay the fee ($42.50 for anyone wondering) and she was staying in the car with the engine running to keep warm. When Judge McCullough informed me she was able to complete our application process, she also told me Teresa had to be there to re-sign the paperwork we had signed in October. I texted T to come in, and the media began filming when she joined me at the desk. Teresa was horrified because she hadn’t washed her hair!
I, on the other hand, did watch the interviews last night and realized I clearly turned into a pillar of salty tears when the reality of the moment hit me and I was asked about my feelings…my feelings? I had no words then and not many more now. I wonder how any couple feels when they apply for a marriage license? Excited, nervous, joyful, proud, like something good is about to happen? I wonder how the suffragettes in South Carolina felt when they voted for the first time…I wonder what the people of color in South Carolina felt when they saw the “colored” signs coming down…I wonder what the illegal immigrants who have lived in South Carolina for decades will feel when they get a driver’s license…maybe I had those feelings or ones like them. Regardless, this member of the “older couple” couldn’t have ever imagined a moment like this when she was a little girl who asked another little girl to marry her in the early 1950s. Wow…was what I felt. Jubilation T. Cornpone…was what I felt.
One of the interesting comments made in a TV interview I watched was that Teresa and I had been “dating for fourteen years.” Gosh, was that what we’d been doing for fourteen years? Maybe that’s what young people call living together these days, and I know this youthful reporter was not intentionally offensive. Or maybe this was a tiny example of why marriage equality is necessary: to say hey this isn’t dating – this is my family we’re talking about, a family that has been through the same highs and lows your family goes through except we lacked the piece of paper that your parents had to make it legal. Dating, to me, is a trial run. Teresa and I are already in the race together and way past the starting gate.
To the GLBTQ activists we have worked with for the past thirty years in South Carolina and around the country – thank you for each goal we set and each victory we made happen together. The burdens have been much easier to bear when they are shared, and we’ve had warriors with Great Spirit walking every step with us. We admire and respect your leadership and bravery over the long haul that is the task of changing a culture and fundamentally altering the political landscape.
I often say the battles are for those who will come after us and that the next generation will benefit from our efforts in the state, and there is truth in that. But I also want to remember my sisters and brothers who did not live to share these celebrations with us. Last night we went to dinner with one of my oldest friends Millie who took Teresa and me and another good friend Patti to an Italian restaurant. Millie had made the plans a week ago so we weren’t there to celebrate the excitement of yesterday but I confess I did carry the license with me. I wasn’t leaving home without it.
The waitresses were fabulous and came to our booth to congratulate us when they realized why we were ordering champagne and snapping pictures and brought our desserts with candles to end the dinner with a bang. Our server was a young woman with a great smile, and she drew “hearts” on our to- go box. Really sweet.
But Millie’s partner of fifteen years, Cindy, wasn’t with us because she had died earlier this year. Millie said Cindy would have wanted them to be next in line to apply for the marriage license. This was not to be for her and many of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. We will always honor their memories.
One week from today we will observe my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving Day. Teresa and I will make our usual trip to the upstate to have a late evening family meal with her mother’s people in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church of Fingerville, South Carolina. I always love being with her family because they are good people and because nothing is more important to me than family.
This year I’m getting a head start on the holiday and giving thanks for the woman who loved me enough to say yes, I want to marry you. That’s the Good News tonight. Tell it.