There is a group called Crossroads Hospice that offers unique gifts for the dying: the gift of a perfect day, to do something they’ve always dreamed of. One man asked to ride an Indian motorcycle for his 100th birthday; an extended family went on a bus tour to view Christmas lights; a woman flew to Florida to stick her feet in the sand one last time, then died three hours after she came home.
John Arthur, another patient of Crossroads, hadn’t yet thought of a wish until June 26, the day the US Supreme Court struck down portions of DOMA. He watched the news from his hospital bed in his home, and he decided that his wish would be to marry his partner of 20 years, Jim Obergefell.
Trouble was, John and Jim live in Ohio, where marriage equality is yet to be; the couple couldn’t marry at home. And the idea of traveling to a state where they could marry was almost a non-thought because Arthur is bedridden with ALS, a progressive neurological disease that robs patients of their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe.
But as he watched TV that historic day, John and Jim started working their phones and their email and their social media accounts to find a way to get this done. New York was the closest place they could go, but they would both have to travel there to get the license, then return home, and travel back again once they could marry.
New York was out. And California and Washington, along with Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, were too far. But Maryland; Maryland required only one partner to come for the license and then wait just 48-hours before a couple could marry. And it was just an hour and 10-minute flight.
But then the cost of the trip became an issue. Since John is bedridden—he hasn’t left his home since March—he would need a medical transport plane that could accommodate a stretcher. Hospice could cover some costs, like the ambulance ride to the airport, but it wouldn’t cover the $12,000 price-tag of renting a medical transport plane.
Jim Obergefell asked their friends if they had any connections, and suddenly donations began arriving in the mail from relatives, friends, former co-workers, even someone in Ireland they’d met on a cruise. The donations covered enough of the cost to make the trip possible, and Jim Obergefell flew to Baltimore on Tuesday, obtained the marriage license and flew back a few hours later.
On Thursday John Arthur and Jim Obergefell boarded a Lear jet at Lunken Airport with a nurse, two pilots trained in emergency medicine, and Arthur’s aunt, Paulette Roberts, who’d been ordained to perform weddings with the hope that she’d someday get to do theirs:
“When I obtained ordination and license to marry people, I called my nephew John and told him I would go anywhere, anytime to officiate at his and Jim’s marriage. He and Jim both said no. They were married to each other in their eyes, but that they would not take part in a wedding ceremony until the law of the land declared they were equal to other couples.”
And that Thursday morning, the plane landed in Baltimore and parked just off the runway; the pilots disembarked. Then, in the cabin of that plane, with Jim seated beside John’s stretcher, Paulette Roberts began to speak. Crying, Jim Obergefell then spoke; he and John exchanged rings and Paulette pronounced them husband and husband.
Jim leaned over John and kissed him.
It was just about seven minutes, start to finish, and then the pilots were back on board and Jim and John headed home to Ohio, with matching rings on their fingers and a wish fulfilled; they were finally married after 20 years, six months and 11 days together.
“I’m overjoyed. I’m very proud to be an American and be able to openly share my love for the record. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”—John Arthur
One day, some day soon, I wish all Americans, in every state, could feel like John Arthur felt last Thursday.
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