A LOOK AT LOVE
By Liz Doup Staff Writer
Sun-Sentinel Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Forget the recent buzz about gay marriage, the flurry
of words from politicians and preachers, lawyers and
lovers. Just focus on this image from I Can't Marry
You, a documentary about same-sex couples who want the
right to wed.
The camera captures an elderly couple named Steve and
Malcolm. Steve speaks, sitting by Malcolm, who lies
in a hospital bed, his eyes unblinking, his expression
Steve gently cradles Malcolm's hand in his own and
says to the camera: "We've been together 42 years."
With a relationship edging toward the half-century mark,
they did what about half of straight married couples do
not: They stayed together, for better or worse, in sickness
and in health. And they weren't married because federal
law won't allow it.
"That's what I wanted to put a human face on,"
says Catherine Gray, the Fort Lauderdale filmmaker who
produced and directed the documentary. "I wanted
to show people there's no difference in these relationships.
It's the same kind of love and commitment."
Though Gray didn't plan it, timing for her documentary
couldn't be better. She had just finished shooting the
footage in 2003 when gay marriage grabbed national headlines
after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned
the state's ban on same-sex civil marriage.
Now, just weeks after gay and lesbian couples began
legally marrying in Massachusetts, Gray's film will
air on two South Florida PBS stations on Thursday and
The documentary, narrated by Betty DeGeneres, mother
of comedian Ellen DeGeneres, features 20 couples together
anywhere from 10 years to 55 years. Five South Florida
couples are included, along with others, speaking from
the pristine mountains of North Carolina to the concrete
canyons of Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan.
The film is filled with indelible images of longtime
couples, a few now white haired, in their younger days.
Celebrating birthdays. Playing with their dogs. Walking
hand in hand.
One segment shows couples, simply and sweetly, describing
what's special about their partner.
"We talk to each other. No secrets."
"We're friends. We like each other."
And there's a moment of laugh-out-loud humor when a
gay man explains how his mother practiced saying partner
instead of friend by talking to a plant.
And his partner interjects: "And now she's worried
because all the plants know."
They all talk of their lives together, and not just
the early, heady days of falling in love. One-half of
a West Palm Beach lesbian couple is good naturedly portrayed
as bossy. One-half of a rural Michigan gay couple readily
admits to being stubborn.
Their frank assessment of day-to-day compromise and
conflict makes the film ring true. As gay couples, they
have good times and bad. Just like anyone else.
WANTING EQUAL RIGHTS
Dick Rogers and Bill Mullins, together 41 years, are
interviewed in their Fort Lauderdale apartment overlooking
the beach. They wanted to show that gay relationships
can be long and loving and that they are as deserving
of equal rights as anyone else.
"We've helped each other through life," Rogers
says later. "If we could, we'd get legally married."
Both men served their country in the military and spent
years working and paying taxes. Though they're 67, neither
can collect on the others' federal retirement benefits.
Throughout the film, similar stories are interspersed
with legal experts detailing marriage's advantages,
including more than 1,000 federal rights, protections
and responsibilities. Though Massachusetts's residents
can marry legally now, the federal government recognizes
only marriage between a man and a woman. And Massachusetts
is pushing ahead with a controversial state constitutional
amendment to end same-sex marriages in 2006 or later,
while, 49 other states are grappling with the issue.
"I think it was brilliant, how Catherine hit all
the subjects," Rogers says of the film. "I
don't know if she realized when she was making it how
important it would be."
GRAY'S COMING OUT
Gray made the film using a chunk of her money and her
She had carved out a successful 17-year career in cable
TV advertising. She was a good businesswoman, too, who'd
made smart investments in real estate.
Back in 1987, she even produced a gay-oriented TV entertainment
show called Way Off Broadway, which aired on a South
Florida cable TV station.
Still, she couldn't tell her parents what she'd known
for decades: She's a lesbian.
"I was afraid of losing my family," she says.
"And I loved them so much."
In 2000, Gray gave herself a 40th birthday present
by gently telling her parents the truth: "I'm gay,
and I'm very happy with my life." It took a few
months for acceptance to settle in, but it did. That
same year, Gray took a long, hard look at her life.
"I decided I wanted to do something more meaningful,"
In 2003 she started shooting footage for I Can't Marry
You. Since the film's release last year, it has appeared
in film festivals and fund-raisers from California to
New York as well as the heartland, including Iowa and
Gray now splits her time between Fort Lauderdale and
New York, where she's in a new relationship. Like the
people in her film, she wants to get married someday.
"My parents were married for 55 years," she
says. "I want the same thing that they had, that
my sister and her husband have."
Liz Doup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
ON TV AND RADIO
Program: I Can't Marry You
Airs: 11 p.m. Thursday and 2 a.m. Sunday on WPBT- Ch.
2; 11 p.m. Monday on WLRN-Ch. 17
Radio: Producer/director Catherine Gray will be on
Topical Currents, 1 to 2 p.m. Monday on WLRN (91.3 FM).
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