My wife Bev and I have known each other since we were teenagers and played in the same softball league. We hit it off after college and were close friends before we became a couple in 1978. We’ve been together ever since.
The thing I most cherish about Bev is her ability to laugh at herself, something I don’t have. She’s the most honest person I’ve ever met, and I trust her more than anyone else in the world. When I’m with Bev, I feel whole. We love being together.
It was hard to be gay in the 1970s and 1980s, including in St. Louis, Missouri, where both of us were born and still live near to be close to our families. For many years, we feared discrimination and lived very quiet lives. I worked for almost 30 years in the telecommunications industry, and Bev dedicated her life to teaching, first as a math teacher, then as a principal in the Clayton School District and eventually as an associate professor at Maryville University.
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Throughout our careers, we were terrified we might be fired if we were open about our relationship. Only our closest friends knew we were a couple. After Bev retired in 2014, and after the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision in 2015, we began living more openly.
Discrimination is far from dead
I am 72 and Bev is 68. A few years ago, we started looking for communities in St. Louis where we could live safely and comfortably for the rest of our lives. Friendship Village Sunset Hills jumped to the top of our list. It was reasonably priced and provided every level of care, so we would be cared for no matter what the future held. We also had several friends at Friendship Village who spoke highly of their experience and encouraged us to move there. We loved the community that Friendship Village provided, with exercise classes, card games and a choir.
Knowing this was the place for us, we made plans to put our home on the market and canceled a vacation so we could start packing. Then our lives were pulled out from under us.
A few days after sending a deposit to Friendship Village, the marketing director called and asked about the nature of Bev’s and my relationship. I told her we have been married since 2009 and together since 1978. She replied that she was going to have to get back to us, that this may be a problem.
She called back a few days later and said Friendship Village would not accept us because we are a same-sex couple. We would violate their “cohabitation policy” because of their definition of marriage.
I was stunned and felt sick to my stomach. For so many years, Bev and I feared being discriminated against. We finally thought that fear was over, and then this happened.
What happened to us broke our hearts after planning the next phase of life surrounded by friends in the community we’ve always called home. It was also blatant discrimination based on our sex. If one of us were a man, we would have been accepted. But because we are both women, we were barred. So Bev and I sued Friendship Village under the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination against renters or homebuyers due to sex and other factors.
LGBT community needs specific protection
Disappointingly, last week, a judge in St. Louis dismissed our case. The court found that the Fair Housing Act does not protect legally married same-sex couples, though other courts have recognized that LGBT people have the same protections from housing discrimination under that law.
Bev and I are devastated. Friendship Village turned us away for one reason: Because we are in a legally valid marriage between two women, not between a man and a woman. That is discrimination based on sex.
No one should have to endure what we went through. Bev and I thought we had finally reached a point in our lives when we wouldn’t have to worry about discrimination anymore. We are retired from our jobs, our remaining family members love and support us, and we have a rich community of friends. But what this experience made clear is that, even in 2019, we still have a long way to go to reach true equality.
Same-sex couples can marry in every state in our country, yet many of us still live in fear that we might be fired from our jobs or lose our homes. This is not just about Bev and me — it’s about all LGBT people. While Bev and I plan to continue our legal battle against Friendship Village, it is critical that we push for state and federal laws expressly protecting LGBT people from discrimination so others won’t need to go through what we did. No one should be denied the opportunity for housing because of who they are or whom they love.
Mary Walsh is a retiree living with her wife, Beverly Nance, in Shrewsbury, St. Louis County, Missouri.