By John Grogan
(This appeared in the March 29, 2004 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer and is included in the book of selected columns.)
In many ways, they are a typical suburban couple.
They spend their weekends remodeling their tidy three-bedroom house, which sits on a quiet street in the Main Line community of Strafford. They enjoy gardening and cooking and spoiling their dog, Cybil.
They both come from large, traditional Catholic families, and they dote on their 17 nieces and nephews.
Now in their early 50s, they prefer quiet nights at home to going out on the town. They pay their taxes on time, look in on sick neighbors, and vote each election.
They are ordinary in all ways but one: Tim Dineen and Victor Martorano, a couple for nine years, are homosexuals. And that puts them squarely in the middle of the national debate on same-sex marriage.
They are not the ones protesting on courthouse steps or trying to force change by seeking marriage licenses where they know none will be issued. As the debate rages, they have written letters to newspapers, but otherwise go quietly about their suburban lives. It was for this reason – their very ordinariness – that I sought them out last week. I wanted to see for myself just how different from the heterosexual majority a gay couple in a long-term relationship is.
Marriage of the minds
They give me a tour of their house and show off improvements they have made – new tile, enlarged kitchen, hardwood floors. On the table is a vase of pussy willows brought in from the garden. Outside, a pile of rain gutters sits in the yard, next weekend’s project.
In their own minds, Dineen, a demonstration chef at a Trader Joe’s market in nearby Wayne, and Martorano, who works in the travel industry, already are married. On their first Christmas together, they privately exchanged gold bands that have remained on their left ring fingers ever since. Still, says Dineen, “we will get married the day we legally can do it.”
Some of the motivation is practical. If one is incapacitated, the other right now would need a written power of attorney to make medical decisions – a precaution they already have taken. And as Dineen pointed out over a cup of coffee, “If Victor died tomorrow, I would have to pay inheritance tax on his half of our house.”
Adds Martorano: “The law does not recognize me as his next of kin, and that is wrong. It’s just wrong.”
But more important to the couple is what marriage stands for – a public acknowledgment of a couple’s love and lifelong commitment. “Marriage is a stabilizing force in society,” Dineen says, “and we want to be part of that stabilization.”
After all, they consider themselves solid members of the community. And so do their neighbors. As Peg Schwartz, 73 and a registered Republican, told me later: “I can’t say enough about them. They really could not be better neighbors. They are delightful. They’re just nice, kind, caring people, and that’s what you want in a neighbor.” Having them next door has softened her position on gay marriage, she said. “If that makes them happy, then that’s all that counts.”
And yet, for now at least, Dineen and Martorano will remain the one couple on their street for whom the civil contract of marriage is not an option. Until that day comes, the two men believe stereotypes and prejudice will continue.
“Gay people have a reputation for being extremely promiscuous,” says Dineen, whose full beard and wire-framed glasses give him a professorial air. “Well, not all gay people are.”
Some of them lead their lives not much differently from the straight people on their streets, sharing the same worries and joys and dreams. And that brings Dineen to his main point.
“If we were married tomorrow, the only thing that would be different would be the piece of paper that grants us our rights and responsibilities. Nothing else would change. We would still be here just as we are today, putting new gutters on the house, going to work, grocery shopping, taking the dog to the vet.”
He adds: “I think that’s what so many people fail to realize. We’re here already. We’re a couple already. For all intents and purposes, we are married. We just lack the legalities.”