“I was just thinking about you and wish that your Chuck had been here to see this historic moment-…love Kelly” reads my FaceBook page at 9 am Sunday July 24th, 2011….… My late partner’s birthday was on, July 23rd. Chuck would be 58 years we could have been legally married had he survived kidney cancer.
In 2004, Chuck Allen, III an African-American Connecticut politician came out of the closet after leaving a 26 year career in government. He had seen a great deal of change during his time-a serious black contender for the White House during the last month of his life in 2008, our parish in 2003 agreeing to allow to bless our union. A first for an African-American Episcopal church in the U. S. and in Harlem at the prestigious St. Philips church. And then there were the two pre-adoptive children foster care, Jose and Jayson placed in our care and we faithfully cared for and loved and learned for 6 months before it all came tragically unraveled.
A family, a spouse and two kids besides my career it was what I always wanted and aspired to experience. So the ‘thinking of you’s’ at Harlem Pride June 23rd at Marcus Garvey Park from Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright who voted in favor of the New York same-sex marriage law was bitter-sweet. Wright spoke at Chuck’s funeral that cold solemn evening February 20th, 2008 at the memorial mass at St. Philip’s. Chuck and I didn’t get to have full marriage rights, despite the struggle to lift our voices and the awareness of how not having full access to marriage hurt our black family, our gay family and our American tax paying family.
With more than half of black children today being raised by single parents-overwhelmingly single female headed households and the penal system being overly represented with black and Latinos males–we could not understand how it wasn’t better for Jose and Jayson to have two father’s as opposed to none and be in a home that collected a subsidy check for caring for them but in which their future was never certain.
The black church is mostly silent about the fragile state of black children not emotionally and financially supported by two persons and instead using a great deal of useful time and energy fighting against gays and lesbians marrying in secular state ceremonies. Time that would much better be spent on advocating for birth control, safe sex and marriage among their congregation and communities whose illegitimate children enter into care at much higher rates than whites and Latinos.
So, today I look at and hold the obelisk shaped urn that was sprinkled with holy water at the funeral and sits in the window beside a black Christ on a cross and think of Jose and Jayson across town and the battles I have had in court since Chuck’s death as a direct result of our not being married leaving me in several precarious and disadvantaged financial episodes since his death. All because I didn’t have legal recognition of our love and family unit.
His sizable social security returned to the over indebted government instead of passing to me because of the Bill Clinton compromised Defense of Marriage Bill, the Connecticut same-sex marriage bill signed April 23rd, 2009 by Gov. M. Jodi Rell was another bitter-sweet day a year following Chuck’s death. So many ‘could have’s’ and emotional scars having watched him suffer through 17 surgeries over five and half years to keep him walking throughout the kidney cancer working its way up his spine to the base of his brain leaving him paralyzed the last three months of his life as he continued to insist along with Jose to do homework at Calvary Hospital. A family indeed, a marriage indeed. Unquestionable commitment on all counts by all parties and in six states finally realized. Good night sweet Prince.
Tod Roulette has written for Arude, Harlem World Magazine, Men’s Style, Out, Paper magazine and others. He is currently working on two books; Tod & Chuck, a Love Story and “Rowing, Not Drifting-Bryant Women in Kansas,1795-1908: The Expansion of the West and the Participation by Women of Color” a look at the first four generations of women in his MidWestern family.