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Eight years ago, Jill Calvin was denied the right to bury her partner with whom she had been in a committed relationship for 15 years.

The couple had prepared for the worst-case scenario — their wills named each other as beneficiaries — Calvin was her partner’s power of attorney and they were co-owners of their home. Yet, it did not hold much weight.

When her partner passed away from lung cancer, Calvin said: “I was told since she was dead I no longer had any rights. They said I was ‘a legal stranger.’

Mired in grief, Calvin was forced to cede many of the end-of-life decisions (including the decision to cremate and who would identify the body at the funeral home) to her partner’s next of kin. That turned out to be an aging mother who was diminished by the early stages of dementia.

What’s more, in his eulogy, a priest, who never even acknowledged Calvin, said that her beloved’s entry into heaven was an “iffy” proposition.

Fast forward to June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court’s issued its monumental marriage equality decision. Thankfully, Calvin, now extremely happily married to Lori Pimlott-Calvin, can say with some assurance that nightmare need never be repeated.

“All those indignities that I went through and just had to swallow, I don’t have to go through that with Lori,” Calvin said Monday. “I feel much stronger. I don’t have to apologize for who I am anymore.”

‘I am equal’

The Royal Oak couple, in their mid-50s, were one of the roughly 300 couples who were married in March 2014 during a brief eight-hour window when a federal judge overturned the state’s gay marriage ban. That window closed the following day when a stay by the Court of Appeals stopped county clerks from issuing licenses.

Now that same-sex married couples across the country have equal representation under the law, many gay couples like Calvin and Pimlott-Calvin are celebrating the benefits and protections many heterosexual married people take for granted.

In addition to the right to jointly adopt children, as nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse so ardently sought, gay spouses now have the right to be each other’s patient advocate. They can cover each other on health insurance, file taxes together, share retirement benefits, be each other’s beneficiaries on life insurance. They can make life and death decisions for each other, make funeral arrangements.

“I said to Lori recently, do you realize that we are now next of kin? Most heterosexual married couples don’t realize how huge that it is,” Calvin said.

Pimlott-Calvin, 56, who works at the University of Michigan Cancer Center, says the impact of the ruling cannot be underestimated. “I never ever dreamed in my life that I could be married. Never. ... I feel completed. It’s like, this is where I belong.”

Even the seemingly simple references to “wife” or “husband” take on greater import. Calvin said the two were recently at a picnic with people who didn’t know them, and Calvin was talking with a woman about their mutual love of dogs. By way of introduction, the woman said: “I’m the wife of so and so.”

To which Calvin responded: “ ‘Oh well, I’m the wife of ...’ and I pointed to Lori. I saw her eyes just blinking and it took some time for her to process.” Calvin laughed. “And that’s OK. That’s just fine. But, at least, now I know I have some rights. I am equal.”

Still feel threatened

Both still point out that in Michigan, the LGBT community is a long way from achieving full equality. Currently, Michigan’s civil rights legislation does not specify sexual orientation or gender identity as classes of people protected from discrimination.

“The standing joke is that, ‘Yeah I got married today, but I go back to work on Monday and if I have my photo of me and my spouse on my desk, I could be fired,’ ” Pimlott-Calvin said. “I could be also tossed out of my apartment or refused service in a restaurant. And that would be completely legal.”

Calvin, who works at FirstMerit Bank said: “In Michigan, the idea that I could lose my job means that in conversations I have to be very careful with pronouns. Like when you go into work and you talk about what ‘we’ did on the weekend. If my employer happened to be someone who was not accepting, you have to think about questions that might arise. Can I use ‘we?’

As adversaries mount political opposition to the marriage equality ruling, Calvin said it’s difficult not to feel threatened.

“It still hurts to see how much negative, really nasty stuff is still out there. I can’t help but take things personally because I’m the person you are talking about. And I’m really tired of being called a sinner.”

“My gay agenda is this: I have to cut the grass and I’ve got to go grocery shopping. That’s my gay agenda.”

Only time and awareness, they say, will break down barriers.

“What will make a difference,” Calvin said, “is couples like Lori and me being good neighbors, good friends, good employees, so that people take a look at their own prejudices and say ‘well, you know, Jill and Lori don’t fit that definition. Or Jayne and April don’t. The stereotypes I had in my head really don’t fit those people I know.’

mkeenan@detroitnews.com

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