I kept looking at their faces. Their beautiful smiles. Two handsome men near my age. Something tugged at me, made me want to draw closer to them. Then it hit me. They reminded me of my brother, Tim, who would have been about their age had he not died 20 years ago this week.
It was the eve of the filing of a federal lawsuit seeking that the marriage of Randy and Tom be recognized in our state. They and six other loving and committed couples who took on all the responsibilities of marriage were about to ask for its protections as well.
As I looked forward to a hopeful future for Randy and Tom, I looked back on Tim’s life that ended when he was only 35. I realized that Tim never once mentioned marriage as a possibility.
Tim and John were partners in business and in life. They lived in Atlanta in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis. They opened a restaurant on Peach Street called the Neon Peach. They began to renovate a Victorian house with a half dozen fireplaces. They had the most beautifully glorious Christmas trees you could imagine.
When John fell ill, Tim saw him through countless trips to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda where researchers desperately tried to find a treatment for AIDS. When John became too weak to work, they had to let the restaurant go. The renovations on the grand house ended along with their countless dreams. When Tim’s beloved died, there was no possibility that the death certificate would read, “Surviving spouse: Timothy Ray Koenig.”
After John’s death, Tim returned home to Nebraska. I was the fifth and he the sixth of the eight children in our family, and I was so happy to have him near once again. Tim rebuilt his life, returned to work as a carpenter, created an elegant smaller home, and found love again. Five years later, two days after Thanksgiving, Tim died.
Some marriages endure until death. Others end in divorce. Most will have shared sacrifices, shared joys, and their unique sets of delights and disappointments. But whether your marriage ends in divorce or death, at a minimum it deserves the dignity of being recognized.
I’m sure I took my share of the privileges of marriage for granted, not the least of which was the privilege of simply being able to say I was married and to have the world acknowledge my relationship. My brother never had this privilege or the protections that went with it.
“Your brother would be proud,” Randy and Tom smiled at me, referring to the lawsuit. When I look into their hopeful faces, I believe they are right.