Jim & Steve - Bar Mills, ME
Jim and Steve
Bar Mills, Maine
My name is Jim Bishop. My partner, Steve Ryan, and I have been together for over 33 years.
For any of you who have been in any kind of a relationship, be it marriage or something else, you know that to be together for any length of time takes real commitment and work; but being with someone you love for any real length of time brings you a unity with that person unlike anything else. It is wonderful and almost unbelievable. You feel so honored and lucky. That's how I feel anyway, and I would like to solidify my relationship with Steve with the one thing that is recognized everywhere: marriage. Steve and I are Unitarian-Universalists and we attend The First Parish in Portland. Unitarian-Universalists recognize the inherent dignity and value of all human beings, and the church sanctions marriage as a civil right.
Steve and I have worked together for over 32 years. Through a lot of effort and sacrifice and a great deal of luck, as well as the generous support of family and friends, clients and associates, we have a very successful property management business. Our philosophy at work is simple: provide the best service at the most reasonable cost, and treat others as we would like to be treated. The business has been more successful than either of us could have imagined when we started out. We are equal partners – in life and in our business -- but if one if us dies the other will have to sell the business to pay taxes even though the business couldn't have existed without both of us. If we were married, we would qualify for a spousal exemption, just like everyone else who's married in America.
We’re also concerned about being able to care for each other as we get older and face the possibility of assisted living and nursing homes. Though we have made legal arrangements to ensure that we are treated as a committed couple, we can never be sure our wishes will be honored. Marriage would guarantee that as we faced life together in the twilight of our years, we would remain together.
Jim has mentioned our business and life planning concerns, but I can tell you this: if marriage didn't carry a single benefit, we would still want it. In 2009, Jim became severely ill. I drove him to the emergency room at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford. He was in agony. Before he saw the doctor, a pleasant woman about our age interviewed him. "Married or single?" she asked. "Oh no," I thought. "Here we go again.”
Jim said, with a sigh, "I guess single, but my partner of 33 years is sitting next to me."
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Your significant other.” And she started to laugh, not maliciously. She was a kind woman, but it was a nervous laugh. It's hard to pigeon hole someone when the category doesn't exist. If you're gay in America this happens all the time -- when you apply for insurance, fill out a mortgage application, file your tax returns, or cross the border into Canada. Mostly it slides right off you. We all have to pick our battles. But when the person you love most in the world is in agony and seriously ill, it really hurts. How many husbands or wives get a nervous laugh from the intake worker in the hospital when they say that they are married?
Fast forward three weeks. Jim was still very sick and wasn't making any discernable improvement. I went to the local market to get something for dinner and I saw a bouquet of the most beautiful roses I had seen in a long time. Ah ha! This will help! I grabbed them and the young lady at check-out exclaimed. "Wow, those are the most awesome roses! Your wife is really going to love them.” "Oh I'm not married,” I said.
"Well who are they for?" she asked
Remembering the intake worker at the hospital, I said "Errr, my significant other, Jim."
"Jim? What an unusual name for a woman."
"Jim isn't a woman,” I replied. "He's a man.”
She stopped and thought for a moment. I could tell she didn't know what to say. And then she smiled and said, "Wow! That's really nice. I hope someday I'll have someone in my life to give me roses." I smiled back and said, "Don't worry, you will.