Y’know, with the sudden avalanche of marriage equality victories this year and last, it can be easy to forget why these victories are so important. What heterosexual couples take for granted, same-sex couples battle across state lines for; couples like Eugene Woodworth and Eric Marcoux. Together for over 60 years, Eugene was given only weeks to live and they wanted to ensure Eric was taken care of. However, the couple was legally unable to marry in their home state of Oregon so earlier this month, they tied the knot in Washington — just days before Eugene passed away.
Eric, a former monk, and Eugene, a professional ballet dancer, met in Chicago in 1953 through a mutual friend. “I’d just come from the 12th century,” Marcoux told Oregon Live. “I was in a Trappist monastery when I was very very young.” After running into a friend at a restaurant, Eric said he had a “paranormal experience” when he saw Eugene. Being the most “forward” he had been in his life, Eric boldly asked, “And won’t you introduce me to your friend?”
“My body went cold. I was feeling electric shock. I couldn’t move,” Woodworth said of the meeting. “I barely got started talking again, and the same thing happened. I heard (Eric) say, ‘Well, why don’t you introduce me to your friend?’ And so I turned and shook hands with him and at that point I said, ‘I’ve got to quit ballet. Overnight stays and three weeks at a time is not going to work. I’ve got to get a regular job. I’m going to have a family.'”
60 years and two religious ceremonies later, they were still renewing their vows once a month as part of their shared Buddhist beliefs, but because of Oregon’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, their union was not legal in the eyes of the government. When Eugene was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and given only weeks to live, their situation got more dire.
Eric’s social security was nearly a fifth of what Eugene’s was, and they feared how Eric could live without it. “We’ve observed federal government extending privileges. Then it occurred to us, ‘Well, maybe we’ll be able to transfer his social security, which is significantly greater than mine, to me,” Marcoux told OPB News. “And although it’s a modest one, it will make an enormous difference in the kind of life that I will be able to leave – live! – and leave.”
“He deserves it after living with me for sixty years,” Woodworth added.
Oregonian gay marriage supporters gathered signatures for a ballot measure to overturn the constitutional ban, but a vote isn’t scheduled until 2014 and Eugene simply didn’t have that long. “It looks like they’re not going to do it until later in the year,” Woodworth said, “and I won’t be here then, so.”
With December 31 as the deadline for tax benefits and Woodworth running out of time, the couple went to nearby Clark County in Washington, where same-sex couples from Oregon and Washington have been steadily streaming to acquire marriage licenses.
They arrived at the Clark County Courthouse in early December with two friends to serve as witnesses. “I am here today to be legally married to Eugene Woodworth,” Marcoux said, “with whom I have had an intimate deeply committed relationship for a little over sixty years.”
Despite being together for six decades and having married in two religious ceremonies, Eugene and Eric still got emotional when the judge pronounced them legally married and they slipped their rings back on each others fingers.
Knowing that his and Eugene’s time was short added an element of sadness for Eric: “But years ago I told myself this is the tax we pay on love, and I’m glad to be able to pay it.”
Sadly, Eugene died last Saturday at age 85. As for Eric, even though he had legally married Eugene in Washington, it’s still unclear if he will be eligible to receive Eugene’s benefits. The tax he had paid on love may be nothing compared to the taxes he’ll have to pay now that his partner has died.
However, cases like Eugene’s and Eric’s are not uncommon as with John Arthur and Jim Obergefell. Ohio’s constitutional ban on marriage was challenged after Arthur and the terminally ill Obergefell married in Maryland over the summer. The presiding judge ordered Arthur to be listed as the suriviving spouse on Obergefell’s death certificate, citing that Ohio’s ban likey violates the U.S. Constitution. This led to a federal ruling that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages, at least when it comes to death certificates.
So even though Eugene has passed, his and Eric’s love story could be far from over.
Photos: Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian