Friday was a bittersweet day for Bill Dunn.
He tried for 20 years to legally marry his partner, Shaun-Michael Morse. Although he was ecstatic to see the day come, when same-sex marriage was ruled constitutional, it came five years too late for him.
Now he and Morse face an extra burden in their separation that they would not have to face if they had been allowed to get married.
They met in 1990 at the First Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita, when Morse was singing for World AIDS Day.
After the couple moved to California in 1993, they registered their union in San Francisco, even though it was purely ceremonial.
Then in 2003 they registered as domestic partners, after California passed a law in 1999 allowing them many of the same benefits of marriage, without the name.
In 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing marriage certificates for two months, they got a baby sitter on Valentine’s Day and stood in a line that stretched around city hall. But so many people showed up, the licensing office closed before they could be married.
So they came back the next day, with their 18-month-old slung over a shoulder and 4- and 5-year-old boys in tow, and signed the paperwork that allowed them to be married.
But a California judge nullified their marriage less than a year later.
In 2005, when the couple moved to Kansas, voters passed a law amending the constitution and forbidding them to marry.
Now, some 25 years later – and five years after the two separated – Dunn cannot even enjoy the legal benefits that come with divorce.
Dunn and Morse adopted three special-needs children together, and Dunn gave up his career to stay home with the kids. Now that they’re separated, he and Morse share custody, in an informal arrangement that they’ve worked out themselves.
But Morse cannot share his 401(k) retirement benefits from AT&T because the two were never legally married. That means they would have to pay a fee for taking out the benefits early, and Dunn would also have to pay taxes on the gift. If they had been married, the 401(k) could have been split without penalty, he said.
When Dunn saw the news on Friday, the first person he called was Morse, who had their children that day.
“Most married couples that had a 20-year union breakup, it would not be this well managed even with lawyers,” Dunn said. “Heck, we have a joint checking account still.”
Dunn said there are probably many other kinds of legal limbo that gay couples will continue to face.
“I’m sure some people are still going to run into judges who are not fair,” he said. “It’s not that anybody’s mind is going to change overnight.”