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Love and activism
in Wisconsin

Love and activism
in Wisconsin


Wisconsin couple Richard Taylor and Ray Vahey were coming up on their 50 years together when Taylor died in July. But in their last year together they not only decided to finally come out to family and friends but also joined a very public fight against a constitutional marriage ban on the November ballot.

My husband, Richard Taylor, died in July just shy of our 50th anniversary on September 16. During our last year together, we finally found the courage and the strength to tell the world who we really were. And together we became activists, joining the gay rights group Fair Wisconsin in publicly opposing a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions that will appear on the November ballot in Wisconsin.

I met Richard Taylor (pictured above, right; I am on the left) in September 1956. We fell in love during my first solo vacation. Richard was managing a toy warehouse for a department store in Cleveland, and I had just graduated from high school in Youngstown, Ohio.

We first passed each other on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, and my heart raced as I saw him in a black leather jacket, Levi's, and motorcycle boots. A few hours later we saw each other at the Greyhound Bus Station Post House. Soon we were on our way to my hotel. When we checked Richard into my room, the clerk offered to have a cot brought up, but I assured him we'd make out--and we certainly did.

It was the height of his busy season, so we spent our honeymoon in a 100-year-old warehouse. He set out work schedules for the following days and put me to work shooting price tags on Madame Alexander dolls. Those hours together were more romantic than a trip to any destination because they transported us to a special place of our own creation.

Over the years Richard always kept his indomitable spirit, his courage, his gentle and loving ways, and his joy for life--but ours was a necessarily secret place. We were living in a deeply homophobic era that in spite of some progress continues to this day.

Out of self-preservation we hid our feelings from family, friends, and above all, from our employers. We drew closer and closer over the years as we encountered the challenges and the ups and downs of life together. We saw each other as the most important person in the world, which made it easier to make choices and compromises that kept each other's hopes and well-being primary in our minds.

But living in the closet built walls of fear and misunderstanding between us and our families--walls that we only started to break down last year. Society had not progressed to the point that our families could understand and be accepting of us, and for 49 years we could not be frank--but out of caution and habit we were also tardy in giving some family and friends the chance to accept us.

Our parents and some of our siblings died without having known who were really were. If we had taken the chance to put our love on the table, we might have been so much closer to them over these many years.

Last year we came to see that no matter how deeply we were in the closet, the door is transparent, and folks who had their wits about them and knew us for a while were aware of us anyway. That lifted a great burden from our shoulders.

In 2005 we came out publicly and spoke of our love at Milwaukee's PrideFest community rally. That was our epiphany. We began to speak to church groups and various organizations and testified at the Wisconsin state capitol in opposition to the proposed amendment that would ban civil unions and marriage for couples like us.

We knew that we were part of the Over the Hill Gang, and that more of our lives were behind us than ahead of us. But we vowed to each other that we would speak out against injustice for as long as each of us drew breath. Richard kept his promise, and I am going to do my best to keep mine. I would not change one moment of our lives, but this last year was the most glorious of them all because we were being open and because of our involvement in this effort.

During World War II when Richard was 17, he convinced his reluctant father to allow him to join the Navy. He was assigned to a naval tanker on convoy duty in the North Atlantic, then to the Mediterranean during Operation Torch, and from there to the Pacific. His tanker fueled a cruiser while it bombarded Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, and then they went on to Okinawa, where they came under kamikaze attack.

Richard voluntarily put himself into harm's way to protect his country and the rights of all Americans of that day and the generations to follow. So when the same-sex marriage ban was introduced, we couldn't understand why there would be an attempt to separate Richard from society and take away his right to equality under the law.

For all of our years together, we yearned for a marriage or union recognized in America.

We planned to go to Massachusetts to be married if their Supreme Court would strike down their anti-miscegenation law--originally passed to prevent racial intermarriage, but now applied only to LGBT folks from out of state. In a backward step, their court decided to keep that hate-based law on the books. So, in May we decided to stop yearning and made plans for a wedding at the Milwaukee Unitarian Society on September 16.

Suddenly, Richard became ill and began to receive a series of chemotherapy treatments. We decided we needed something positive on our minds. So, the Reverend Georgette Wonders agreed to perform a ceremony in the hospital. We were taken again to that special place, but this time we were joined by relatives and friends we love, both in person and in spirit from all across the nation.

Richard wrote this year's PrideFest speech with me, but he could not attend. As I left to deliver the remarks, Richard said, "Ray, remember I'll be right there at your side."

After a valiant struggle, Richard died on July 28. We are holding a ceremony September 16 as a memorial to Richard and as a celebration of our 50 years of love. A fund-raising reception for Fair Wisconsin will follow the ceremony.

If you know people in Wisconsin, please share our story. And if you would like to get involved, please go to

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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