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Just Who is Destroying the Institution of Marriage, Exactly?

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Religious conservatives love to pontificate about “traditional marriage,” claiming to defend it. Now we know better. One of the religious right’s champions, Pat Robertson, told a caller to his national television program this week that it is okay to divorce an ailing spouse.

Just don’t tell that to Ron Wallen. Divorce wasn’t even in the The 77-year-old California man’s mind when his spouse was dying of cancer, even though those were “four years of pure hell, with more hospitalizations than I can count using both hands and feet.” Wallen says it wasn’t his spouse with leukemia. Rather, “we had leukemia!” he declares. The couple’s togetherness was never in doubt. There was no way Wallen was going to cut and run. “And as rotten as those four years were, he says, “They were made ever so much easier because we had each other for comfort and love, and because we were married.”

If you haven’t guessed by now, Wallen’s spouse was another man, by the name of Tom Carrollo. The two lived a love story that lasted 58 years. “And, from the first day, we enjoyed a sense of togetherness, which never weakened in both good times and bad,” Wallen says.

They were married in 2008, during the brief period when California permitted same-sex marriage. “We all know that part of the marriage vow is ‘in sickness and in health,’ and even at our wedding we were already facing the worst because Tom had been diagnosed with lymphoma, which later morphed into leukemia,” Wallen says. “And, knowing the handwriting on the wall, I threw a party for Tom’s 80th birthday. It was the last time we had both of our families and all of our friends together, celebrating with us. That was a wonderful day.”

Wallen told his love story to Congress this summer during a Senate hearing on the repeal of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing Wallen’s union, and now that his beloved Tom is gone, Wallen can’t collect the Social Security survivor’s benefit that any heterosexual widower simply would take for granted. He told the Senators:

With this rejection of Tom’s benefits, my reliable income went from $3,050 a month, down to $900 per month. To pay the mortgage and taxes each month on my home is $2,078. By spending some of our savings, I could have stayed there longer while planning next steps for my future. But you don’t have to be an accountant to see that from the first day after Tom passed away, I have had to worry about how I could pay that mortgage and support myself.

You may be thinking that lots of widows and widowers downsize, and make adjustments, after the loss of their spouse. Downsizing is one thing, but panic sale of a home which is underwater, is another. That is my current reality. I am selling the last house I shared with my husband in a panic sale because I can’t afford the mortgage and expenses. I am spending my days and nights sorting through our possessions, packing boxes to move — even while I am still answering the condolence cards that come in the mail.

Despite this pain and hardship, made worse by our nation’s anti-gay bias written into federal law, it’s clear Wallen wouldn’t have done it differently. There was no way he would have left his dying husband’s side, not even for a minute.

It is Ron Wallen, a gay man, who could teach Pat Robertson a thing or two about what a real “traditional marriage” is all about.

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About Scott Nance

  • jamminsue

    Hear Hear!

  • jamminsue

    I am a non-believer, married 30 years, happily heterosexual, my spouse was injured in 1982 and has not worked since. That did not stop our relationship. It did change things, I work full time, he stays home, so traditional gender assignmets were flipped. Neiter of us considered abanding the other over illness. Thus, besides gay people, non-Christians practice “in sickness and in health.”

  • http://www, Anna Meade

    Thank you for writing this – well said.

  • Baronius

    Robertson’s comments were terrible. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a co-host push back against him after one of his crazy statements.

    I used to feel sorry for the woman on set with him when he started talking about the Haitian devil-worship curse. You could just see it on her face, she knew that this was her YouTube moment. She was going to be the other person in the frame forever. But she should have pushed back and at least had some personal credibility. Actually, though, she should have realized that when you’re on Robertson’s show, it’s only a matter of time before he says something that no sane Christian would ever believe.

    Some evangelicals don’t get marriage. Actually, some evangelicals just don’t get sin. When you believe that you’re “once saved, always saved” then it’s hard to work out a reason why you shouldn’t do certain immoral actions. You can become quick to put your bad actions behind you, even the ones you haven’t done yet.

  • Frank

    Just a question, what is an 80 year old person doing with a mortgage? I am 55 and unemployed but my small house was paid for 15 years ago.

  • Arch Conservative

    I used to oppose gay marriage but then I got ta thinkin……..

    with all the sadness, anger and misery in the world who could object to two people coming together to share their lives and make each other happy, even if they are the same sex….

    I do still believe that those gay individuals who for whatever reason feel the need to be over animus torward the world or define themselves as human beings solely by their sexual orientation do themselves no favors. The greatest strategy for making heterosexual allies is to show heterosexuals just how alike homosexuals are to them in virtually every other aspect of the human condition aside from sexual orientation.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Good comment, Baronius. Agree 100 percent. I, too, have long felt sorry for that co-host.

  • roger nowosielski

    Great progress, Archie, proud of you.

    You’re the man.

  • Cannonshop

    There’s a good case or two to the idea that it’s the bigot in the pulpit that’s a greater danger to stable family life. and it’s STABILITY that holds civilization together, not biology. Our civilization is destabilizing at an alarming, and increasing rate- Gay Marriage is probably more of a stabilizing influence than a destabilizing one-simply put, as a child of divorce, from a generation of children of divorce, I don’t see any reason at all not to permit Gays to divorce-which means they have to be married, ja?

    enough families are self-destructing, let’s let some folks who want to be STABLE have some damn Stability.

  • roger nowosielski

    Et tu, Cannon?

    Interesting comment on civilization — stability vs. biology.

  • zingzing

    well. respect for archie and cannon. it only takes a little bit of thought to conclude that whatever your personal beliefs, you aren’t anyone to stand in the way of another person’s happiness. but it’s the taking the moment to think that seems to trouble a lot of people.

    but not you two. i’m glad the same question was answered correctly in my current state, but it’s up for question in my home state right now. north carolina! don’t be idiots…

  • Cannonshop

    #11 There are always idiots, Zing. I’m as guilty of being one on some subjects as anyone else is on others-one of the good things about a ‘federalist’ condition, is that states are free to choose (and suffer the consequences of) both good and bad ideas-and we can then track the bad ideas and thus avoid them, and those that saddle their people with bad ideas can then suffer the consequences until the lesson filters down past the bedrock of their idiocy, undermines it and collapses it.

    The downside of ‘top down’ on these things, is that it provides an environment for the bad ideas and the bigotry from which they spring, to flourish in secret, unseen, to poison MORE minds, create new and exciting avenues of corruption, and eventually undermine the stability of civilization, with a long-term impact more or less destructive to the original intent.

    “civility codes” and “hate crimes” legislation undermine their own intent, because human beings are inherently contrary-they will lust to do what is forbidden, simply because it IS forbidden.

    Whether the black market is drugs, racist literature, satanic ritual, or bibles, doesn’t matter-it’s the result of something being arbitrarily banned. Some of the more infamous elements of what Pop Culture views about Gays, Lesbians, Transgender folks, is a direct outgrowth of the subject BEING taboo-extending those taboos, or clinging to them, is unhealthy in a FREE society, and undermines the public health, as well as the social stability of the rule of law.

    Good Law is not arbitrary, Good Laws don’t breed contempt for the law, laws as fundamentally arbitrary as sodomy statutes, or ‘defense of marriage’ statutes, are not good law-they serve no practical purpose and punish segments of the population that have done nothing to harm others without the INFORMED consent of those others.

    As a person who believes in the rule of law as a fundamental value of our society, I can’t do other than to support the equal treatment of my fellow citizens, including both the good, and bad aspects. “Separate but Equal” has proven to be Non-Equal, Apartheidt doesn’t WORK.

  • Cannonshop

    #10 Roger, I’m just looking at it as an observer-one who likes having a stable society and does not want to live in Rwanda or North Korea (or Cuba, or Europe…or Africa…or most of Asia.) The ‘traditional nuclear family’ is a myth for most of America, and has always been so, but it is a myth that grew out of the prosperity to be had after the economy recovered from WWII. The “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s through the 1970’s brought, among other things, terms like “latchkey kids” (I was one), kids with one parent and an occasional visitor (if you’re lucky), destruction of minority families and the rise of crime in the cities, and degeneration in our schools from places of learning, to Lord of the Flies with babysitters, to a point today where school districts encourage parents to get their kids stoned so that they can be herded from place to place by staff burdened with more and more of the responsibility that SHOULD have been handled by the family of the little hellspawn.

    A kid with Two Dads has two adults at home, adults to set examples and teach them not to be two-legged animals, adults to keep track of what their little shit is doing, who they’re hanging out with, what doctrines they’re absorbing. Same for Two Moms, or a Mom and a Dad.

    I didn’t HAVE a father between the ages of 2 y.o. and 5 y.o., some of the kids I grew up with didn’t have one their whole lives-and aside from the really smart ones, most of them didn’t graduate, even from the very dumbed-down curricula available.

    A stable home doesn’t need ‘biology’, it needs ‘STABILITY’ and “EMOTIONAL SUPPORT”.

    Two (or more) parents can do that REGARDLESS of Gender or Gender Identity.

    Besides, Gay people deserve to pay the same taxes I do.

  • roger nowosielski

    The larger point of course you’re making is that stability, in more general terms, amounts to “cultural influences.” And from your #13, I see that a great part of that amounts to “good laws.” So indeed, “culture,” however we understand it, provides a counterbalance to biology.

    There is a double-edged sword, however, one with which you may not agree — your assumption, that is, that stability (invariably?) translates to a good society. Arguably, this may not always be the case, especially if “stability” is the result of stagnation (when it becomes complacent, for example) or indoctrination. Tito’s Yugoslavia, Castro’s Cuba, the Soviets — all may have been “stable” societies (more stable perhaps than today) but for all the wrong reasons. There is a sense, therefore, in which inter-societal conflict and strive shouldn’t be pushed under the rug but given a chance to work themselves out. Which is to say that resident culture may often serve as an impediment to a better life, whether individual or social.

  • roger nowosielski

    As an addendum, I wouldn’t endorse the position of having to preserve a civilization at all costs. Civilizations come and go, and if they eventually die out, it’s on account of attrition. They become stale and obsolete, and are replaced by more vibrant ones.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Good to see there’s a subject which all of us can largely agree upon…and because of that, I’ll check my political observations at the door for this discussion.

    I think that perhaps Pat Robertson is in the process of imploding like Glenn Beck. For all his idiotic comments over the years, he stayed just barely away from the edge of the cliff of legitimacy. But this one may well have tipped him over.

    It’s hard for me to get my mind around Cannonshop’s statement that the nuclear family is a myth – but I’m not going to dismiss it out-of-hand. Most people on BC Politics reject religion, so I’ll leave that aspect out of it as well.

    But I am one of those who grew up without a dad at all from the age of two…and on this, I’d both agree and disagree with Cannonshop. Yes, stability and emotional support are paramount – but I can testify from experience that when one doesn’t have a good example of both genders around, one tends to grow up with a lot of misconceptions. But of course that’s a heck of a lot better than growing up in an abusive household, and I was lucky enough not to have that.

    But Pat Robertson was flat wrong – if my wife developed dementia, I will not leave her nor cheat on her – never! I have my solemn promise to her that I will not break, and – just as importantly – I have the example that I must set for my sons.

    I just have to wonder how many tragedies will occur because of Pat Robertson’s rank idiocy.

  • Cannonshop

    A lot of tragedies, Glenn-but it’s not just Robertson’s idiocy, he’s just a mouthpiece for the rank idiocy that runs rampant throughout, a siren, if you will, announcing a belief that is already all-too-common before he even opened his mouth.

    I’d wager that most Gay Couples have straight friends, who’re usually also married/in a stable relationship. Yes, there will be misconceptions-there always ARE, even in two-parent homes where both genders are represented.

    I see that as less of a risk, than abusive homes, or homes where “mom” is the television and ‘Dad’ is that stranger who turns up sometime after bedtime every night.
    (or the other way.)

    Being gay is not like being christian or jewish-a heterosexual baby isn’t going to turn gay if she has two mommies (or two daddies), just like most gay people aren’t turned ‘straight’ by having a mom and a dad.

    My point, though, is that two (or more-I don’t see a real problem with four or five parents, honestly) parents, regardless of gender, provides better for both the child, and society-because there’s someone to be there to tell the little brat(s) “NO” and, because more than one parent means they’re probably not relying on the State to be the other parent-a situation that results in schools that are more ‘lord of the flies’ than ‘Hogwarts’.