Bill's a complex guy. When we met we just kind of hit it off. I liked his easy going demeanor, his sense of humor and his ability and willingness to engage in conversation. To tell the truth, I don't remember how long Bill and I had known each other before he began to let me in on the fact that his marriage was and always had been broken. The only thing of value his marriage had brought to him was his three sons. Other than that it had been a bleak and cold relationship.
Bill had been raised in a loving solid home by a former World War II B-17 pilot who became a successful business man with a major corporation after the war. Bill's mother, who is still living, is a fascinating though somewhat charmingly eccentric woman who often deferred to her husband as was expected in that day, but who has done exceeding well in living her own life in the years since his death. Though the number of her years has increased to a level few achieve, she remains physically active and mentally sharp. She has always loved and been proud of her son and she still is. Bill's father was somewhat more stern than his mother but he loved and cared for his family. Communication was not the family's strongest characteristic. However, the children were made aware of what was expected of them and they did as was expected, except that Bill was always very much aware he did not live up to his father's ideals. He wasn't into sports and he had no fascination with most of the things that interested his father.
As a teenager, Bill found himself enrolled in a private school. He was enrolled in the private school because his father hoped it would help to steer him away from some of his more obvious homosexual like tendencies his father recognized in him. Private school was neither an exceptionally good nor an exceptionally bad thing for Bill. It simply was a fact of life and he made the best of it. However, it did little to steer him away from those things within himself that both he and his father suspected might be indicative of homosexuality.
After graduating from high school, Bill entered college and it was there his life began to take a real turn. He came to the attention of a group of students who were starting a campus mission ministry. Soon, Bill was not only a part of the mission movement; but one of the campus leaders of its ministry. For a young man who did not have a religious background, this group of people seemed caring and committed. He enjoyed their company and their discussions about service to God and ministry to others. For the first time in his life, Bill felt as if he really belonged to something important.
It was through this mission group that Bill met the woman who was to become his wife. It was a strange and unconventional relationship. There was very little, if any romance about it. Instead they talked of what they could do for God as a mission ministry team. Their relationship came to the attention of ministry leaders and the couple was encouraged to marry. Because the leadership wanted him to marry, Bill agreed.
Not long after his marriage Bill began to see that what he had first seen as a homogenic mission movement dedicated to serving God was really more of a cult in which competing factions were battling for power. This power struggle shocked him and disturbed him to the point that he began backing away from the group though he had become credentialed as one of its ministers.
He could back away from the group, but he could not back away from the marriage the group had encouraged him to enter. He was determined to make the best of it though there was very little he could use as material for building a sound and proper marriage.
In time three sons were born. That was a good thing, but the bad thing was that after the birth of the third son, Bill's wife announced she had done her duty to God and that she was no longer willing to have a sexual relationship with Bill.
Through the ensuing years the two raised their boys and managed to keep up appearances as a married couple. After the boys were away from home, the relationship became more and more strained with Bill eventually moving into a separate bedroom and more and more living his own life separate and apart from that of his wife.
It was during this period Bill began to let himself explore himself as a person and fully contemplate the differences within him of which he had always been aware. Most of his life he had known he was different, but he'd never really put a label on that difference. Now, he began to realize that the label that applied to him was that of a homosexual man. The Florida city, in which he lived was cosmopolitan and had a large and active gay community. Bill became more and more active in that community, not in a sexual way; but rather using it as a connection to find friends and causes. Bill became very much a part of the gay community's charity fund raisers. Soon he was meeting regularly to play tennis with gay friends and became very much a part of the activities within the gay community, but not sexually active within it.
Bill's new life in the gay community was a very good thing for him. It gave him fulfillment through the charitable work and it gave him new friends he enjoyed. But there was a down side too. He began to realize just how broken and hopeless his marriage was.
It was during this period that he and I met. After a while he began to let me in on the pain of his marriage and his life. He shared with me his sorrow that he had never really known love or experienced it in an unbounded and unfettered way. But he also told me that as a Christian he did not feel free to divorce his wife and begin a new life. My answer to that was one word we use from time to time here in Texas, "Bullshit."
Over the next several months, I began to push Bill to embrace new paradigms about his marriage and his life. I told him the ideal of a good Christian marriage was great, but that he was not living in such a marriage. He wanted very much to keep his vows to his wife. I told him, in fact, she had already broken her vows to him by withholding sex from him for years. I told him God appreciated a willingness to keep ones vows, but He also wanted those he loves to be happy. I encouraged Bill to see that he was in a life situation that would never allow for his happiness.
I had no way of knowing, because Bill never shared it with me; but at the same time I was working with him to embrace new paradigms within the context of his faith, another friend was coming at him hard to do the same thing within the context of his homosexuality.
I'm not sure whether it was one or the other of us that finally broke through to him or the two of us double teaming him that did it, but he did finally embrace a new outlook for his life and begin to set it in motion. The last barrier to change, which he erected, was that he hated the possibility of growing old alone, perhaps never finding someone new with whom to spend his life. He clung to that for a while, but one day he told me he had decided he would be happier living alone for the rest of his life than he would be living his present life which he had comes to see as no life at all.
He came out to his wife and told her he wanted a divorce. She resisted, but he was resolute. He told her he would be fair to her in every way, dividing all they had equally between the two of them. He gave her the choice of the house or a new apartment. She choice a new apartment. He helped her get her financial life in order and helped her to move into the new apartment. During this time he also came out to his sons and to his aged mother. They were not overjoyed with the news; but all of them, including his mother, were generally supportive. To Bill's great joy sharing the reality of his homosexuality with his mother caused her to launch into a long dialogue about the early life of the family from her point of view as well as her sharing some of her personal thoughts about religion, God, love and romance. It was a conversation Bill was thrilled to be a part of and it most likely would have never taken place if he had not shared his greatest secret with his mother.
For a while after his divorce, Bill took great pleasure in redoing his home to suit his taste and his needs. It was a great pleasure for him to do it as he wanted without having to satisfy his wife or compromise with her on style. Once the house began to take on his view of what it should be, he began to entertain his gay friends in the house and around the pool. He was enjoying his new life. Perhaps enjoying it too much.
It soon became obvious to me that Bill was enjoying his old friends, but he was not making any attempt to find new ones. I began to push him again to start looking around with an eye to finding a special guy. Somewhat reluctantly at first, he did begin to step out into dating. Being a good looking older guy with a nice home and all, he began to catch the notice of younger guys who were looking for older guys. Fortunately, he kept his wits about himself and weeded through those who were looking for someone to keep them.
There were one or two guys more his own age who came along at first seeming like possibilities, but time revealed they weren't. Bill mentioned to me that he might just have to make good on the possibility of living alone for the rest of his life.
Then one day, he revealed to me he had met an interesting guy on line who lived in Europe. He was close to Bill's age. He had been in a 30 year partnership with another man who had passed away. As the days and weeks passed the two of them became more and more interested in each other. Soon, John suggested that he wanted to come to Florida to meet Bill in person. Bill agreed and the trip was scheduled. Bill was atwitter with excitement about the visit, but he didn't want to appear to be over excited, so he put John in one of the guest bedrooms.
I never knew about this stand off; but fortunately, Jonathan did because he and Bill happened to connect on line right in the middle of it. Jonathan gave Bill some rather blunt instruction; and fortunately, Bill had the courage to put it into play. The rest is history as they say. The first meeting was not only saved, but John extended his visit beyond the planned departure date.
But the departure date finally did come and John left to go back to Europe telling Bill he would make arrangements for him to visit in Europe soon. That, I did hear about. Bill called me in great consternation. "What was he going to do?" he asked. John had asked him to visit him in Europe but he couldn't afford to go just then. John had told him he would bear the cost of the trip, but Bill didn't feel he could accept such a generous offer.
"Didn't you entertain John with all the resources you had at hand when he was in Florida?" I asked. Bill replied that he had. "Then why are you going to forbid him to do the same thing to facilitate your going to Europe? I asked. The point was made and Bill saw it. John had enjoyed his trip to Florida and felt they ultimately got along very well there, but he wanted Bill to come to Europe to see if they got along well on his turf. It seemed to me a very logical thing to do, and though I had not yet met John it impressed me that he recognized the need to get Bill to Europe to insure that any future relationship could span the Atlantic and take root on both continents. The trip finally took place. Bill was introduced to John's friends across Europe and they had a great time just as they had in Florida. I still had no personal contact with John at this point, but I heard a great deal about him through Bill, and I certainly could hear in Bill's voice and not just in his words that he (Bill) was very very happy.
I was later to find out that though I didn't have contact with John, Jonathan did. And Jonathan, being a partnered homosexual man and very much aware of and a part of the homosexual community had no problem in asking John directly just what his intentions were toward his friend, Bill. The reality was, I wasn't really very worried about John's intentions. Once I found that he had been partnered with a man for 30 years who had passed away, I was pretty sure his intentions were to find a similar relationship. Nothing else made much sense to me. Studies have shown that, contrary to popular belief, those who are in solid happy relationships are quicker to enter into new relationships on the death of a partner than are those who were in unhappy relationships.
Other visits back and forth across the Atlantic took place. They also traveled together to a resort in the Americas. They traveled together to a resort island off the western coast of Africa. Soon I was told they were planning a civil commitment ceremony in Europe during August, 2012. I was thrilled. Bill was so happy he was like a different person. I determined right away I would like to attend the ceremony and began trying to make it happen from my end. For a while it looked like it just could not happen but in the end it all worked out.
Two days before the August date for the ceremony, my wife and I flew to Europe. The ceremony was planned to be held in an old 19th century mansion which had been turned into a hotel overlooking the sea. It was a beautiful place. The rooms were large and furnished with antiques. My wife loved it. The grounds were expansive with formal lawns and flowered gardens and wooded walks. I loved that.
The ceremony day dawned bright and clear. Temperatures were in the 70's. It was a perfect day. John's family and friends gathered. Jonathan and his partner flew in from their home in another European country. My wife and I were there from the States.
|Ceremony House And Grounds|
I was pleased to learn that in much of Europe homosexuality is not a big deal. Even Catholic countries like the one in which the ceremony was held have largely abandoned their unquestioning loyalty to the Pope in many personal matters, and started making up their own minds on things. As one straight friend of John's told me, "I wouldn't question John's choice to marry a lady, why should I question his choice to marry a man?" It seemed a rather apt question to me. John lives in a small traditional village. The fact that he is well liked and accepted there was evident by the straight couples who were invited to attend the ceremony. It was also evident the night before when we all went out drinking in the village and Bill and John were congratulated all night as people came in for their evening drinks.
|John and Bill on Their Commitment Day|
It was a long journey for Bill. Jonathan and I had to spur him on from time to time, but the success was his. As I have told him often, "I only offered you suggestions, you did all the work of implementing them." And that is the truth. Implementing the suggestions was not always easy but was always necessary if Bill was to have the life he wanted. He had the courage to step into the unknown. As one of Bill's gay Florida friends said, "I've been gay all my life and have no partner. Bill's been gay for 5 minutes and has already found his."
Perhaps it was a little more than 5 minutes, but the point is he had the courage to go for it. It's what life is all about.
As Americans, we like to think we lead the world in every way. We like to think the world looks to us for protection, help in time of crisis, culture and the freedom of person as well as freedom of ideals. Unfortunately, in many ways, America is no longer an unchallenged world leader. The freedom to choose one's life partner is a basic human right. It is a right recognized and accepted in much of Europe. It is a right recognized in only six American States and explicitly denied by the Federal Government of the United States of America.
This country was founded by our forefathers on the ideal of religious freedom. That means, as citizens we have the right to believe and the right not to believe in God. We have the right to see God in the light of our own individual experiences of Him. However, in this country we have reached the point where one group, Fundamental Right Wing Christians, have come to believe that only they have the right to interpret God and define His will. They expect the rest of us to accept that we are bound to their view of God and what He blesses and what He does not bless. This group has become so strong that national laws are passed to support their agendas and their viewpoints. The National Defense of Marriage Act is one such law. It denies a basic human right to millions of Americans because Fundamental Christians have the power to make it the law of the land. The founding fathers would be aghast.
That has to change and change quickly if we are to remain the land of the free. I've been married to my wife for almost 50 years. She and I attended John and Bill's Commitment Ceremony. By doing so we got much closer than many married Americans will ever get to same sex marriage. You know what? It had no ill effect whatsoever on our own marriage. Those who say it does impact marriage between a man and a woman simply lie.
My thanks to John and Bill for allowing me to blog about this very personal part of their lives and even use their real pictures in the piece. They did it for one very simple reason. It is their hope that by allowing me to tell their story, others will be helped to see the possibilities in their own lives. Bill once thought that any change in his life was impossible. What he found, when he had the courage to look, was that change was not only possible, it could come very quickly from the most unexpected places.
Jonathan and I made a few suggestions to Bill. He had the courage to think about the suggestions and then implement them in a way that changed his life. I hope his courage appeals to those of you who would like to see a change in your lives. I hope it makes you aware of new possibilities in your own life.
As a liberal minded Christian it is my belief that God does not love Bill and John any more than He loves anyone else. He does not give John and Bill opportunities He is not willing to give to others. The only limiting factor on God granting us opportunity is our willingness to see them through. John and Bill were ready and willing. Are you?