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One Man's Fight For A Same-Sex Marriage Law

When David Wilson lost his partner, Ron Loso, to heart attack in 1994, he says his world fell apart.

"EMTs arrived within minutes and they called the police, because they saw me standing in the driveway. You know, an African-American man in a white neighborhood," Wilson says during a visit to StoryCorps in New York City. "When the police arrived they wanted to arrest me for assault and battery, and breaking and entering."

When Wilson got to the hospital, officials there would not release information to him about Loso.

"As far as they were concerned, I was a stranger," the 66-year-old says. "They called Ron's family in Vermont and said, 'Can you give permission for us to talk to David?' And his 75-year old mom said, 'Of course, they're partners.' So, they came out and they said that he was dead on arrival."

Losing his life partner broke Wilson, so he joined a support group. That's where he met Rob Compton, and three years after meeting the two men had a commitment ceremony.

"Lots of people came and thought it was our wedding," he explains. "We said, 'No, this isn't a wedding, because we don't have the right to get married.' "

That injustice led to Wilson's becoming a plaintiff in the 2004 court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

"It was amazing to become a plaintiff in a major lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts," he says. "Part of the decision to be part of the case was to talk with my family. My dad wasn't sure. All of a sudden his only son is going to become this prominent, out, gay black man. So, I talked with Dad about some of the issues. A couple of hours later Dad said, 'You're doing the right thing.' "

The first weddings began taking place on May 17, 2004, after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.

"Dad said, 'You're going to City Hall and going to be part of all this excitement, what about me?' I said, 'Dad I'm sending a limo to pick you up,' " Wilson says.

"My dad had never been in a limo. He got a new suit, came down, and the limo took him down and he was in the front row when we walked down the aisle. Both his arms were in the air. He was 89 at that point. And he didn't see it just for gay people, he saw it for, you know, all people that had been discriminated against. And, his whole life he had been discriminated against. So, I think, for Dad, it was just a victory that he could be a part of. He could not have been more proud. It was a great day."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon and Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(Soundbite of music)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time again for StoryCorps. Today we'll hear from David Wilson. He was a plaintiff in the 2004 court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Wilson's journey to that landmark case started 10 years earlier when he lost his first partner Ron Loso to a heart attack.

Mr. DAVID WILSON: EMTs arrived within minutes and they called the police, because they saw me standing in the driveway. You know, an African-American man in a white neighborhood. And when the police arrived they wanted to arrest me for assault and battery, and breaking and entering.

And when I got to the hospital, I found out that they were not going to give me any information because I had no relationship to Ron. As far as they were concerned, I was a stranger. They called Ron's family in Vermont and said, can you give permission for us to talk to David? And his 75-year old mom said, of course, they're partners. So, they came out and they said that he was dead on arrival.

My whole world just kind of fell apart and I felt pretty broken, you know, where do I go from here? So I joined a support group when meeting in walked a man. That man's name was Rob Compton. Three years later, we had a commitment ceremony.

Lots of people came and they thought it was our wedding. And we said, No, this isn't a wedding, because we don't have the right to get married.

So it was amazing to become a plaintiff in a major lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts. Part of the decision to be part of the case was to talk with my family. My dad wasn't sure. All of a sudden his only son is going to become this prominent, out, gay black man. So, I talked with Dad about some of the issues. A couple of hours later Dad said, you're doing the right thing.

May 17, 2004 was the first weddings. Dad said, well, you're going to City Hall and you're going to be part of all this excitement, what about me? I said, Dad I'm sending a limo to pick you up.

My dad had never been in a limo. He got a new suit, and came down, and the limo took him down. And he was in the front row when we walked down the aisle, both his arms were in the air. He was 89 at that point. And he didn't see it just for gay people, he saw it for, you know, all people that had been discriminated against. And his whole life he had been discriminated against. So, I think, for Dad, it was just a victory that he could be a part of. He could not have been more proud. It was a great day.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: David Wilson at StoryCorps in New York City. His recording will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Get the StoryCorps podcast at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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