Linda will drive them to the barbecue, because she always drives. Gloria will close her eyes and sleep in the car, because Linda drives too fast. Linda will mix up her stories in a rush of nervous excitement, so Gloria will squeeze her hand as a signal to calm down. They will finish each other’s sentences and maybe each other’s plates, because that’s what happens after 41 years.
At the barbecue this Sunday afternoon in Boston, the two women plan to reunite with six other couples to mark their collective anniversary: eight years since they won a joint lawsuit against Massachusetts and became the first gay couples to marry in the United States. In a country still divided by the concept of gay marriage, these eight women and six men have the most firsthand experience.
For them, gay marriage is just marriage, and marriage has been its own journey of emotional extremes. One couple is preparing to send an only child to college. Another filed for divorce. Another is retiring and moving out to Cape Cod.
And then there are Linda and Gloria Bailey-Davies, 69 and 64, authorities even among this group, with their last names hyphenated and their lives intertwined. They share a house, a boat and a cellphone. They shared a business until retiring on the same day six years ago and moving to live full time in Orleans, Mass., a quiet town of 6,000. Linda has a tendency to interrupt and can “act like a spastic mess,” Gloria said. Gloria “sometimes feels like she has to fix and take care of everyone,” Linda said. For almost a decade, they were too competitive and too maddened by each other’s tendencies to play tennis on the same team in doubles. But they have spent only four nights apart in the past four decades because, Linda said, “We love each other, and I would never want to spend my life committed to anyone or anything else.”
This is what President Obama has decided he is for.
This is what North Carolina has decided it’s against.
While the world continues to argue about the morality and legality of gay marriage, Linda and Gloria live one, occupying a gray space in the debate. In private, they hang their wedding pictures in the living room and a sign above their doorway that reads “And They Lived Happily Ever After.” In public, they feel self-conscious enough to drop hands when they see a stranger during their walks or to go out for lunches instead of dinners because it might look less like a date.
In a country where a record-low 51 percent of adults are married, theirs is a relationship that endures. They signed what they call a “vulnerability contract” early in their relationship, promising to help counterbalance each other’s weaknesses. Linda has attention deficit disorder, so Gloria keeps track of their important papers in an intricate filing system. Gloria forgets to take her pills, so Linda brings them to her with half a glass of water. They fish and golf twice each week. On the golf course, they always debate when to reveal their relationship to new playing partners, making a hundred instantaneous calculations. Are these new strangers Southerners or Northerners? Young or old? Conservative or liberal?
Linda is bolder, so she likes to introduce Gloria as her spouse on the first tee. Gloria prefers to forestall what she calls the “gay talk” until at least the back nine.
At the end of each day, they sit together in the living room of their old house for designated “family time.” They turn off the lights and burn a wood fire. Gloria sits on the left, and Linda sits on the right. She leans in close to Gloria’s cologne. They hold hands, and Gloria tells jokes until Linda gives a smile that takes over her face, with dimples and creases spreading to her ears. They set a nightly goal of talking for 30 minutes before turning on the TV.
“Sometimes I worry we will run out of things to talk about, but we never do,” Linda said.
“You never do,” Gloria said.
“I guess we’re still two psychologists at heart,” Linda said.
“With plenty to analyze,” Gloria said.
They met in 1970, both social workers at an agency in Hartford, Conn., that served mentally ill children. The agency had a Ping-Pong table in the lunchroom, and Gloria had not lost a match in four years. She was compact and athletic, rushing through lunch in five minutes so she could dominate the table. Then in came Linda, a new employee, with a blond bouffant, too much makeup, a too-short miniskirt and a straitlaced boyfriend working at the IRS. “Let’s play,” she said. “Seriously?” Gloria said. Linda won their first three games.
They were friends for the first six months. A Ping-Pong rivalry led to long talks on the phone, and long talks on the phone led to a confessional. “I have something hard to tell you, but I don’t know how yet,” Gloria said one night, before choking up. For the next two days, Linda thought her friend had cancer. Finally Gloria gave it up: “I like women, and I think I like you,” she said.
Linda had been attracted to women in college but tried to dismiss it as a stage. Now, she was the one to make the first move at a party a few weeks later, pulling Gloria under the stairs for a kiss that tasted like whiskey sours, and so began an internal conflict between her family’s expectations and her own desires. They spent weekends together inside an apartment, indifferent to the pressures of the outside world, and then returned to it and stopped answering each other’s calls for weeks at a time. Gloria got angry; Linda withdrew. They talked about moving in together but continued to date men. They introduced each other first as co-workers, then as friends and finally as roommates.
In 1972, they booked their first vacation as a committed couple, a week in Bermuda. Linda steeled her nerve and asked the travel agent to book them a room with a king-size bed.
“That’s Miss Bailey and Miss Davies for one bed?” they remember the travel agent asking.
“Yes,” Linda said.
“Miss Bailey and Miss Davies. One bed?” the travel agent asked again.
“Yes,” Linda repeated.
They arrived at the hotel and were given a room with twin beds anyway, so Linda called down to the front desk and demanded a change. “Miss Bailey and Miss Davies. One bed!” she said. The concierge came upstairs to push their two beds together into one. Gloria hid in the curtains, too mortified to see him.
They created a life of comfort and routine: a psychotherapy practice that served mostly women and many gays; a Unitarian church that welcomed them; annual vacations to Cocoa Beach and Siesta Key in Florida, because going anywhere new might involve so many awkward interactions.
After they had been together for 22 years, Linda pulled aside her 80-year-old mother at a dinner party. “I’m a lesbian,” she said. After they had been together 25 years, she gave Gloria a family engagement ring and a wedding band. Gloria slipped on the engagement ring and stuffed the wedding band into the back of her drawer.
They always watch their wedding video in May to celebrate their anniversary, so late one morning they put in the DVD. Gloria sits on the left side of the couch, and Linda sits on the right. They both wear jeans, sweatshirts and New Balance sneakers, with their feet propped side-by-side on the coffee table.
They had never been political activists, but they heard about a marriage lawsuit in 2001 and called the lead lawyer to offer their help. Linda had been in the hospital recently for hip replacement surgeries, and they were tired of carrying around living wills and describing themselves as family even when they had no standing under the law. They offered to hold up signs outside of their church during the lawsuit; the lawyer asked them to join the suit instead.
For the next three years, the relationship they once had tried to hide became a point of public debate. Some in town paraded in support. Others began to avoid them. On May 17, 2004, the court ruled to legalize gay marriage in Massachusetts. In the next several years, six other states and Washington decided to do the same.
Gloria and Linda got a marriage license on the day the Massachusetts Supreme Court made its ruling. They filled out the paperwork at the same town hall where they had applied for their fishing and boating licenses and had a small ceremony at the beach, and later another at the church. Two hundred people came. Their families met for the first time. They exchanged traditional vows, and then the minister told the brides to kiss. Gloria wanted a short kiss, and Linda wanted a long one, so they settled for something in between.
It had been the best day of their lives, one they were reliving now on DVD.
“I wish we could watch it again,” Linda said when it ended.
But they had a tee time scheduled at 1 and a church concert later in the afternoon. They had to prepare for Sunday’s barbecue, where they would talk with six couples about the evolution of gay marriage and banalities of their own marriages. Gloria stood up from the left side of the couch, and Linda stood up from the right.
“Are we the old-and-boring couple?” Linda asked
“Can we ever be the old-and-boring couple?” Gloria said.