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?