A gay couple of 19 years considers legal marriage, and faces an onslaught of conflicting emotions.
By Tim Curfman
My name is Tim. I am a 47-year-old computer programmer who prides himself on steadfastly refusing to get upset about anything—even when I write code that doesn’t compile. Although I am someone who never cries, lately I have been transformed into a sentimental romantic, with wet eyes and quivering lips, over something that I had previously not given much thought about: my wedding.
I wasn’t always like this. In early 2015, there was a demonstration for marriage equality that went by my office building in downtown Houston. I looked out the window, and a single thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if they have cake?” It seemed reasonable that they might, since they were protesting to legalize same-sex marriage in Texas. But alas, they didn’t, and I immediately lost interest and went back to work.
Don’t get me wrong: I feel very strongly that the LGBT community should have the right to marry. On a personal level, however, there are few subjects that have caused me more confusion or ambivalence.
In the mid-’80s, I was a teenager growing up in the small West Texas town of Snyder. It was then that I came to grips with the fact that I was incurably gay. This was not good news. To put it in local terms, “Bein’ a gay teen was as awkward as havin’ your favorite pet pig catch you eatin’ bacon.”
Luckily, Snyder High School had a drama department, so I hunkered down and waited out my adolescence as best I could. Even at that time, there were some glimmers of hope. The world was just beginning to question the assumption that being gay was a horrific mental illness. Then AIDS exploded across the scene, and I thought to myself, “Great. Just great.”
As a young gay teen, I faced the grim reality that my life was destined to be lonely and unhappy, and that I could even die a horrible death. I would never find real love, and even if I did, that love would be a dark, shameful secret that I must hide from the rest of the world.
After I graduated from high school, I made the not-very-adventurous move of going off to Texas Tech University, located 90 miles away in Lubbock. Eventually I gathered up my courage and located the one-and-only gay bar in town. I slinked into the doors of the bar filled with trembling fear, and found that my dire predictions about life as a gay man were justified.
The run-down bar was filled with tragic old queens, confused gay college boys frantically trying to transfer to Austin or Dallas, and lesbian ranchers who looked like they could wrestle you to the ground and brand you. Everyone seemed to be “damaged goods.” It was a lonely time for me.
I moved to Houston in 1991 and began a semi-closeted existence working in the oil and gas industry. Five years of fumbling attempts at dating ensued, with no improvement in my prospects. Then one day, a friend suggested that we go to a Houston Press singles event at JR’s Bar and Grill. I walked in the door and looked around the room, and there he was! He was tall and attractive and had the most adorable button-nose that I had ever seen, and I went over to talk to him.
I introduced myself by saying, “Excuse me, this isn’t the Second Baptist Ice Cream Social, is it?”
His eyes grew large. He said, “No . . .”
I said, “Oh, thank God! My name is Tim, by the way.”
He smirked and said, “Hi. My name is Jim . . .”
There was a bit of a pause as I considered the implications of being a couple named “Tim and Jim.” I always thought gay couples with rhyming names were Wrong. All wrong. Twins, yes. Same-sex couples, no.
But that adorable button-nose continued to hold sway over me. We chatted some more, and Jim revealed that he was an ex-Catholic priest who had left his parish in Indianapolis six months before and moved to Houston.
Once again, there was an uncomfortable pause. I did some quick mental math and decided that ex-Catholic priests might make the ideal boyfriends—so much better than the ones who are still Catholic priests.
What are an ex-priest’s selling points, you ask?
- They probably have been reasonably celibate during their stints as priests, which equates to fewer diseases and less emotional baggage.
- They are probably good people, with a strong sense of morals and ethics.
- They are vulnerable.
Jim was earnest and down-to-earth. He was a clean-cut Oklahoma boy who had an unpretentious take on life that matched nicely with my own humble West Texas upbringing. It wasn’t long before we both realized that we had a shot at something long-term, and that our life together could be as good as it gets.
In the summer of 1996, after a six-month courtship, Jim and I bought a Craftsman bungalow in the Heights. We put the ownership of the house solely in my name, because we were a relatively new couple and not completely sure it would all work out. Looking back, though, I think that decision was driven by the feeling that our relationship still needed to be secret.
Shortly after moving in together, Jim and I went on “The Priesthood Tour.” We visited the priests, nuns, parishioners, and black-cassock-wearing Benedictine monks that he had become friends with during his seven-year stint in Indiana. I was concerned about what this group was going to say to the guy that Father Jim was shacked up with, but every single one of them told me, “We’re so glad you’re taking care of our little Jimmy!” (As one of the priests showed off his spectacular new chalice and gold-threaded vestments, I decided that the Catholic Church was gayer than official dogma implied.)
After we had been together for a couple more years, we were ready for a deeper commitment. We had also heard horror stories about gay couples where one of them had died, leaving the other one without a partner, a home, and even a livelihood—all in one blow. It could be devastating. We wanted to do the legal work that would ensure that if one of us got sick or died, the other one would have the means to go on.
We paid a lawyer to draw up the necessary documents: wills, living wills, power of attorney, etc. We had a couple of friends from my job witness the signing of the documents in front of a notary during lunch hour. Then I went back to work. That was our “wedding.”
I called Jim an hour later and said, “That wasn’t very romantic, was it?” Jim and I went out for dinner to a nice restaurant that evening, and went to work the next day as if nothing had happened. I referred to Jim as “my partner” when I introduced him to others, but I never really cared for that term. A “partner” is someone that you dissect frogs with in junior-high biology.
Fast forward to January of 2015: I work as a software developer in the finance industry, and Jim runs the vacation-cabin rental outfit we started 11 years ago—Scenic Hill, in Brenham, Texas. Our relationship had survived the stress of constructing 11 cabins, and I came out of the experience with one bit of advice: if you’re going to build or remodel or start a business with your spouse, you had better line up a couples counselor ahead of time.
So after 19 years, Jim and I had turned into an old married couple without ever having been legally married. I thought about marriage, of course, because gay marriage had been in the news so much. But I really didn’t know what to think about it. We had 19 years to decide, free from the mores of society, what a relationship between two men should mean and what it should be like.
I was ambivalent about the whole subject of marriage for many reasons. The institution of marriage itself seems a bit shaky, and divorce runs rampant through both of our families. I didn’t have a hope chest. I had not been planning my wedding since I was five.
But then last January, my company forced the issue by informing me that the domestic partner benefits they provide for Jim are considered taxable income because we were not married. We had our accountant rerun the numbers on our 2013 taxes as if we were “Married Filing Jointly.” He came back and announced that we could get a 5 percent tax break this year if we got married. I replied, “Really?”
That same day, I decided to ask Jim to marry me. Oh sure, the tax break was an incentive, but I also wanted us both to have that extra assurance of financial security that one gets with a marriage contract. On the other hand, getting legally married felt a little foolish, because we had already been together for 19 years—the world’s longest engagement.
Jim was at his desk, and I waited for him to finish processing cabin-rental reservations. I got down on my knees to propose, thinking that we would both laugh about it. But then a rush of emotion came over me. I asked Jim to marry me with tears running down my eyes. He said yes. We both cried in each other’s arms.
Then we had to start planning a wedding. What a hassle! Jim and I are both very pragmatic people, but there are so many confused emotions around the idea of getting married that I found it hard to think clearly about the subject.
I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want it to be a big, emotional land mine that was going to dredge up all of the sadness and confusion I had experienced in my tenuous life as a gay man. But then, what did I want?
I wanted cake. I wrote down “Cake” on a blank sheet of paper. Jim leaned over and said, “A big cake is going to be a hassle.” I snarled, “It’s my f*%#ing wedding!” The negotiations had begun.
There is a truism that the purpose of relationships is “to pull each other to the center.” Jim and I are such polar opposites that we disagree on almost everything. When one of us has an idea, the other one usually reacts to it with something like, “You stupid jackass . . .” Despite the hurt feelings, this kind of frank feedback has been surprisingly helpful. Jim reels in my unabashed optimism, and I help free up Jim from his paralyzing pessimism. We make a great team, but it has never been easy.
Our knack for pulling each other to the center kicked in as we planned our wedding. I wanted us to parachute in to a hilltop venue; Jim wanted us to get married at home, alone, in the dark. We met somewhere in the middle.
We agreed that we wanted it to be small but meaningful, memorable but not obnoxious. We wanted it to be lovely and fun and not too gay and not too conventional—and also moderately priced and effortless to pull off. The magical thinking had begun.
We decided to write our own wedding vows, but we were not stupid enough to surprise each other with them at the wedding. Oh no, not after our ten-year-anniversary fiasco! Vows need to be approved ahead of time.
I wrote my vows and passed them over to Jim. He read them with horror, scratching out about 50 percent of what I had written.
I started again, pondering the question, What do you promise to someone that you’ve been together with for 19 years? That you’re going to try harder? That you’re going to start smelling better? I started afresh and passed it over for review. He gave it back to me: “More sappy. I want more sap.”
I tried again. His response: “Still not sappy enough. More sap! More sap!”
Thirty minutes later, Jim walked by. There were tears running down my eyes. He grabbed the printout from me, read it, got all teary-eyed, and said, “Perfect.”
We selected our wedding venue—a picturesque mountain home in Estes Park, Colorado (since at the time marriage was still not legal in Texas). I let Jim pick out the readings, and I worked on the decorations.
February 7, the day of our wedding, was a snowy day in Colorado. I announced to anyone who would listen that I would be decorating nonstop until the start of the ceremony. No one tried to stop me. Jim’s mom looked around with a knowing eye. She smiled and said, “It’s going to be a long day.”
The ceremony started as our mothers escorted us down the balloon-festooned staircase into the living room. Each member of our small wedding party read a simple reading. After that, Jim and I briefly told our stories—how we found each other and saved each other and became best friends and business partners, and how we never even imagined that something like this could happen. My lower lip was visibly quivering.
Then the mothers blessed our rings, at which point Jim’s mom announced with tear-filled eyes, “I’m losing my baby!” I controlled the impulse to roll my eyes. Jim was 51 years old and had been living away from home in another state for 29 years.
We exchanged vows. Then we pulled out a small wand with a red glittery heart at the end of it. I tapped Jim with our wedding wand and announced, “Poof! You’re married.” Jim did the same to me.
We kissed, and then we signed the wedding certificate. The wedding party toasted the grooms with the traditional wedding cosmopolitans: “We now pronounce you an Old Married Couple.”
The last order of business was for the grooms to exchange our impressions of each other. I did an impression of what Jim would be like today if he had not become my partner 19 years ago. I mimicked him peeking over a rock, and then darting back behind it, then peeking over it again, having completely given in to his antisocial streak. Everyone laughed.
Then Jim did an impression of what I would be like today if I had not become his partner 19 years ago. He staggered around the room in a daze, singing, “La! La! La!” and bumping into furniture, having completely given in to a rich inner world. Everyone laughed hard. Why was his funnier than mine?
We took pictures on the back deck and then celebrated with dinner at a nearby steak house in an old log cabin. It has a private banquet room with a large fireplace, which invited even more picture-taking.
We went back to the house for coffee and dessert—a variety of cupcakes sitting on an all-glass structure I had made by turning different sets of wine and champagne glasses upside down. The cupcakes floated above the serving tray on different crystal tiers that glimmered from all the candles in the background. Fabulous!
Jim and I got our pictures taken feeding each other cupcakes, and then I snarfed down a couple more cupcakes while Jim gave me that Aren’t you trying to watch what you eat? look. I ignored him. Mmm. So good. So very good.
The evening was getting late, and my little cupcake kingdom had been thoroughly pillaged. Our guests looked tired, so Jim and I said our goodbyes. We checked into the Stanley Hotel and had a celebratory final cocktail in the hotel lounge—still in our tuxedos, of course. Then we went to our bedroom and promptly fell asleep.
A week after the ceremony, we were back in Texas. We had returned to our jobs and lives and, besides the eight hours I spent on Shutterfly putting our wedding album together, things were getting back to normal. I leafed through the online album, and it took me back to a magical place with candles and flowers and cosmos and cupcakes.
Out of the blue, Jim said to me, “Your diet doesn’t seem to be working . . .” I jumped to Google, did some quick research, and showed him an online form on the State of Colorado’s judicial website. The top of the page read Annulment.
“Don’t test me,” I growled. Apparently, getting married didn’t fix any of our issues that were still unresolved after 19 years. Jim and I went through the online album, made it just a bit sappier with some flourishes and hearts and other goodies, and then ordered hard copies.
Fast-forward four months. It’s June 26, and the Supreme Court announces that it has legalized gay marriage. With the stroke of a pen, “gay marriage” has become “marriage.” Once again, to my surprise, I find myself crying like a baby.
I feel the power of history come over me like a wave. When I was a school kid, gays were labeled as an abomination against God—a secret shame that you had better keep quiet about. When I was a young adult, being gay was something that you would fearfully admit to your closest friends. And now, suddenly, the highest court in the land is declaring that marriage is a right that every citizen is entitled to.
I am grateful to have lived through this unfolding transition that is still not over, but still amazing. I am grateful that things have worked out for Jim and me, because I know that we have had an easier road than many of our predecessors. But mostly, I am grateful for Jim and the fact that our relationship has been made just a little more real than it was before.
I am surprised at how my straight friends and coworkers, while reasonably congratulatory, don’t seem to understand what a huge deal this really is. I fight the impulse to wave my wedding ring in their faces and yell, “The Supreme Court recognized my marriage! Did they recognize your marriage?”
How can I explain what all of this means to me? Being with Jim for the last 20 years absolutely saved my life. Our relationship was real before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land, but having that extra protection of a marriage that is fully legal in Texas only serves to make it stronger. At the end of the day, everyone wants their relationships to be real. We need our relationships to be real.
Some people seem puzzled about why gays would so adamantly want to commit for life. To them I would say that we can also experience the joy of finding a soul mate and building a life together. Why wouldn’t we want to be recognized as the normal, boring, totally conventional couple that we have become?
Last weekend, we were at a Toyota dealership in the small Texas town of Brenham. Jim and I walked up to a salesman and Jim said, “Hi, my name is Jim, and this is my husband, Tim.”
I flinched just a little bit, but then the salesman—who is in his 70s and wears Coke-bottle glasses—smiled his biggest smile and said, “Well hi, Tim and Jim!”
Did he sell us a car? Oh yeah!
This is the first piece Tim Curfman has contributed to OutSmart magazine. Tim and Jim own Scenic Hill, relaxing vacation cabin rentals in the rolling hills of Brenham and Round Top, Texas. More information on their business can be found at scenichillvacations.com.