'That Day Wasn't About Us': One Of The 1st Same-Sex Married Couples Looks Back

May 17, 2019
Originally published on May 18, 2019 11:03 am

Fifteen years ago, David Wilson and his husband Rob Compton were one of the first same-sex couples to marry in the U.S.

If it had been up to Wilson and Compton, their union would've been recognized years before that. Frustrated by the injustice, both men became plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led to Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004.

They married in Boston at City Hall and at their church that same day.

In a StoryCorps interview in March, the couple talks about how, until recently, their relationship carried consequences — if it was acknowledged all.

When they first met, Compton was new to Boston. He moved there after losing his job in Michigan, he says, after coming out at work.

"And so I was looking to meet people, and I stumbled across you," Compton, 69, tells Wilson, 75.

Compton remembers taking interest in Wilson when he started talking about his children.

"Having been married myself for over 20 years and having kids, that's actually one of the things that really attracted me," Compton said.

David Wilson (left) and Robert Compton with officiant Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie on the couple's wedding day, May 17, 2004, in Boston, Mass.
Courtesy of David Wilson

A first date eventually turned into their moving in together in 1997.

"The first year that we were living together, you woke up at 3 in the morning and had pretty excruciating pain," Wilson said.

He drove Compton to the hospital, the same one where, in 1994, Wilson's former partner had been taken before dying from a heart attack. As Wilson recalled at StoryCorps in 2010, the hospital staff wouldn't disclose information about his partner until they got permission from his partner's mother.

In that respect, not much had changed between the two hospital visits, he said. "I thought, three years later I would be treated at least as your partner, which I wasn't," he told Compton.

That marked the beginning of when the couple first started to think about actively pursuing the legal protections that marriage provides.

"Back then, most people were not supporting civil unions, let alone marriage," Compton said. "We had one death threat."

In a climate where it was dangerous to be gay, Compton and Wilson took precautions the day of their wedding.

"We had to actually have police all around us and they had snipers up on the roof trying to make sure nothing happened," Compton said.

The only disruption at the Arlington Street Church that day was one of joy. When the minister began her pronouncement of marriage, the couple recalled an outburst of applause and feet stomping.

"We had to pause while the church erupted," Compton said.

Cheering followed as the minister concluded: "I hereby pronounce you legally married."

"And that's when we realized, that day wasn't about us," Compton said. "This really was for thousands and thousands of people."

A decade and a half later, Wilson feels more secure about how others respect their union.

"I have no concerns now about introducing you as my husband," he said. "No one's going to challenge that, no one's going to ask me for a marriage license.

"Right after we got married we started carrying our marriage license everywhere we went. Here we are 15 years later and I don't even know where it is."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And it's time again for StoryCorps. Fifteen years ago today, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Weddings started that same day. David Wilson was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to marriage equality in Massachusetts. Listeners might remember him from a story back in 2010. He talked about losing his first partner to a heart attack.

DAVID WILSON: When I got to the hospital, they were not going to give me any information. They called his family in Vermont and said, can you give permission for us to talk to David? And his 75-year-old mom said, of course. They're partners. So they came out, and they said that he was dead on arrival.

MARTIN: A few years later, David Wilson met Rob Compton. They became one of the first legally married same-sex couples in the U.S.

ROB COMPTON: I was new to Boston. I just came from Michigan, where I was fired when I came out at work. And so I was looking to meet people, and I stumbled across you.

WILSON: I think you slipped me your business card, if I remember correctly.

COMPTON: (Laughter) Well, I'm not sure who slipped who the card.

WILSON: (Laughter).

COMPTON: But you started talking about your family and your kids. Having been married myself for over 20 years and having kids - and that's, actually, one of the things that really attracted me.

WILSON: At that point, we began to think about, well, maybe we'll go out on a date. And the first year that we were living together, you woke up at 3 in the morning and had pretty excruciating pain. And we drove off to the hospital. And that was the very same hospital that my former partner was brought to. But I thought, three years later, I would be treated at least as your partner, which I wasn't. That was the beginning for us of thinking about, how do we get legal protections for each other?

COMPTON: Back then, most people were not supporting civil unions, let alone marriage. We had one death threat. And the day of the wedding, we had to, actually, have police all around us. And they had snipers up on the roof, trying to make sure nothing happened. But that day, Arlington Street Church was filled to the brim.

WILSON: We had our two grandsons, who were 4 and 2, walk down the aisle ahead of us. And I do remember our minister saying, by the power vested in me...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MINISTER: By the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

(APPLAUSE)

COMPTON: And then we had a pause while the church erupted.

WILSON: People clapping and...

COMPTON: Yup.

WILSON: ...Banging their feet.

COMPTON: And then she said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MINISTER: I hereby pronounce you legally married.

(APPLAUSE)

COMPTON: And that's when we realized that day wasn't about us. And this really was for thousands and thousands of people.

WILSON: For me, as we approach the 15th anniversary, I have no concerns now about introducing you as my husband. No one's going to challenge that. No one's going to ask me for a marriage license, which - right after we got married, we started carrying our marriage license everywhere we went. And here we are 15 years later, and I don't even know where it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: David Wilson talking with his husband Rob Compton. Fifteen years ago, they became one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married in the U.S. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.