Heart and home

Erwin with husband John Beddingfield

By Erwin de Leon

Thirteen years ago, I gave up on finding a mate. After a string of relationships that lasted no more than four months, I told myself that to be single for the rest of my life was my lot. And that it was okay. I had a job, I had my health, and I had successful role models of productive and seemingly content singles.

This acceptance – or more honestly, resignation – was groundbreaking for someone who had immigrated to New York City not only to make his fortune but to find love. Manila in the 1990s held little promise even for a graduate of the Ateneo. Much less hope was there for a young gay man who was determined to live his life openly and with integrity, and who dreamt of celebrating many anniversaries like his parents. I wanted to live my life my way yet I did not wish to bring shame to my family. I figured moving a world away would save my parents “face.”

Eight years of dating and settling for unhealthy matches had washed away any trace of my wide-eyed innocence and any aspirations I might have harbored for a mature, loving and supportive relationship. That is, until Labor Day weekend 1998.

Like countless other weekends, a few of us were bored and hanging out at an S&M (stand and model) bar. It didn’t take long before we had enough of the preened posers and headed to another bar. It took even less time for my companions to call it a night. I decided to stay however for I had spied someone. That has proven to be one of my better choices in life.

At first glance, one would wonder what John and I could possibly have in common. He is a tall, blue-eyed, clean-cut and conservatively dressed native of North Carolina. I am a short, dark-eyed, quirky and oddly attired native of the Philippines. Scratch the surface though and one would discover what we did immediately at our first encounter – that we shared so much in common.

With Erwin’s Lola Luz Soriano on her 90th birthday last year.

The wedding cake

John was born a year and a half before me to a middle class family in Raleigh while I to a suburban family in Parañaque. Our parents labored selflessly to provide us with comfortable and stable lives, and instilled the same core values of faith, family, hard work, fairness, and education. We both have older brothers who share similar personalities. We also had both been seeking an equal to share a home and life with but had pretty much given up. Six weeks after that Labor Day weekend, John moved in.

The past 13 years have gone by fast. We have since changed careers and moved out of our beloved New York. We outlasted the initial fraught entanglement of any relationship and now find in each other a constant source of love, support and comfort. We have been embraced by our immediate families and the extended Beddingfield, de Leon, Floyd and Soriano clans. We have grown grayer and a little weathered. We see ourselves as old men laughing, learning and enjoying life together however much longer we are allotted on this good earth.

In a way, we are like any other couple that has somehow managed to thrive as individuals and as one. Fundamentally we are indeed no different, but as a gay couple we remain at the margins not by choice, but by society’s anxieties and its laws.

We probably would have married earlier on but we really were not allowed until last year and only in Washington, D.C. where we now reside. Though we now have a valid legal document testifying to our commitment to one another, it doesn’t mean much in most jurisdictions in the United States. Our union is not recognized by the federal government due to the Defense of Marriage Act, and we are denied the over 1,100 federal benefits, rights and privileges straight married couples enjoy and often take for granted.

Whenever we travel out of the District for instance, we make sure we pack copies of our marriage certificate, wills and health care proxies because should anything happen, we do not have the rights straight spouses automatically have. We are not assured family visitation rights in a hospital. We cannot make spousal medical or emergency decisions. When one of us dies, the other does not have the right to inheritance of property or to the late spouse’s social security pension and other benefits. As a binational couple, John is unable to sponsor me for a green card.

Though no longer wide-eyed or innocent, my relationship with my husband has given me stability and contentment in the present and much hope in the future. When we first met 13 years ago, neither one of us thought that we could ever marry because we just happen to be gay. But times have changed and history is on the side of equality and justice. Next month we will be celebrating our first anniversary as a married couple. Come Labor Day weekend, we will commemorate our 13th year of love and commitment – of family.

Erwin de Leon lives in Washington, D.C. with his husband and is a policy researcher at the Urban Institute, a contributor at Feet in 2 Worlds, and a blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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