Monday, October 30, 2006

One more personal reason to vote no

I've known Bill Hetland, one half of the couple featured in this column, for almost 40 years. I knew him as a talented journalist who revitalized a lot of smaller daily newspapers in his travels around the Midwest; he's since had a career change. I've only met Phil Anderson, his partner, in the last six months. They have one of the most caring relationships I've ever seen.

Anyway, this is one of 100 reasons I am voting no on the gay marriage/civil union amendment:
Staying together 18 years is about mutual commitment, not sex

By Bill Guida
Kenosha News
Published Sunday/Oct. 14, 2006

Bill Hetland's dedication, devotion and commitment to Phil Anderson, his life partner the past 18 years, was immediately familiar.

Meeting them as a couple for the first time, I find myself comparing their home life to that of my late parents after most of my eight siblings and I'd grown and gone.

From the time a massive stroke totally paralyzed Ma on her left side at 54, Pa tended to her every need for 16 years, bathing her, assisting with her other bathroom needs, cooking, cleaning house, doing the wash and the ironing.

Phil, 51, barely survived a car wreck in 2001 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The next year a stroke further affected his left side, his speech and vision.

Three years ago, when the couple celebrated their 15th anniversary together, Bill presented Phil a "Certificate of Survival."

It's a tribute for enduring femur reconstruction, nine broken ribs, back, lung and gall bladder surgery, severe bladder and urinary tract infections, a debilitating stroke, excruciating chronic pain and two major seizures.

As we talk, Boss, their golden retriever/chow/Australian shepherd mix, comfortably sprawls atop Phil's lifeless legs in the hospital bed where Phil stares reflectively at the ceiling between engaging a visitor in conversation and puffing the Pall Mall cigarettes he chain smokes.

Weekdays, he spends half the day in the sunroom of their modest Sheridan Road bungalow where he can look out on traffic and nearby houses after Bill has gone to work and the caregiver who assists Phil each morning has left for the day.

Bottles of Phil's prescription pills crowd a shelf across the small room.

A VA records clerk before his crash, Phil was the one who worked on the house, wrenched the car, did the yard work and fixed things. Bill, by his own admission, is "a klutz with tools."

They met by chance in 1987 when Phil was celebrating his 31st birthday in Wausau. For Bill, it was love at first sight. But Phil was ending a relationship that had soured, and they didn’t become a couple until 1988.

"We just hit if off," Bill says. "I thought he was a nice, kind, caring person."

Reflecting on the proposed amendment to the Wisconsin constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, he adds: "It just enrages me when I hear people say couples like us are a threat to the sanctity of marriage.

"If people got a chance to meet individuals like us, I think it would change a lot of minds. Twenty-five years from now those (pushing for the amendment) are going to look back and be ashamed."

Bill served with the Army in Vietnam. Phil was trained as a Marine sniper. Both have honorable discharges.

Yet they fear being denied benefits given to other veterans and their spouses, like the right to be buried together in a VA cemetery or housed together in a VA assisted-living residence should either or both of them need it someday.

Bill says including a ban on civil unions could permanently prevent transferring "spousal" benefits, a move he sees as mean-spirited and vindictive.

Phil worries passage will someday force them to separate.

"If it wasn't for Bill, I'd be alone. I would have nobody. I wouldn't have a partner," he says, his emotions welling, eyes pleading. "I wouldn't be able to cope. I'm also a lover, and I need that companionship. I wouldn't have that love."

Bill quietly echoes his partner.

"It would be a life without the person who's most important to me," he says. "I've loved him since we first met, and that hasn't changed. It would be devastating not to have him around."

Now, whenever I do a column of this nature, I get responses lecturing that marriage between one man and one woman is based on properly aligned "plumbing."

Only, replace the images of Bill and Phil with your parents, grandparents, yourself and your wife, husband, girl- or boyfriend.

Ban proponents frequently cite Old Testament proscriptions barring male-to-male and female-to-female sex as an "abomination," but Bill and Phil say that misses the point.

Because of Phil's injuries, they haven't shared a bed in over five years.

Not having that intimacy hurts, but they say sex has less to do with their relationship than the need for mutual love and affection.

Says Phil, "I can sleep alone at night because I know my love is upstairs sleeping, and, in time, he will return downstairs to take care of me."


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