Rest in Peace, Richard Taylor
Many of us were sitting down to Thanksgiving activities last year with friends and family when Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) decided to reintroduce the civil unions and marriage ban. A week later, we--hundreds of us who wanted to speak out against the measure--were back at the Capitol for the final legislative hearing on the ban.
Richard Taylor (pictured, left) and Ray Vahey were there, front and center.
Patrick Flaherty, who works with Center Advocates, had told me about their amazing story, and he asked them to join us as lead testifiers. At the morning's press conference, I had to leave the room when they spoke because I couldn't stop myself from crying. Something about their story brought everything home--why the ban is wrong, why at its core it's an attack on the dignity and worth of gay people. It was incredibly moving for me personally to spend time with two men who had spent almost half a century together. I have been privileged to know Richard and Ray.
Richard Taylor passed away late last week. Amy Rabideau Silvers wrote an obituary in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that beautifully tells his story.
We often talk about the legal implications of the ban, but Richard and Ray's story brings to light the deeper implications of this debate--what it’s like to feel compelled to keep silent a strong, nurturing, and loving relationship. What it's like to keep your relationship strong without the support of a network of friends and family. What it’s like in a world that constantly telegraphs messages—through things like the ban—that we are less worthy, less valuable than others.
At the hearing back in November, Ray talked about how he and Richard met 49 years ago. How they fell in love at a time when a love like theirs was nearly impossible. The two of them had never been out, even to many friends and family, until the summer of 2005 when they were compelled to speak at PrideFest against the ban.
Their story brings into sharp relief the unfairness of treating people differently--even people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for others--simply because they’re gay.
Richard signed up to fight for our country in World War II. He fought in every theater of that war; in fact, he was on a ship whose attack is depicted in a painting hanging in the state Capitol. Yet there he was in the Capitol himself that day, pleading with lawmakers not to pass a measure that would further curtail his basic rights.
We lost the fight in the legislature, but Richard and Ray's story is one of the ways we have been able to change voters’ minds. This debate is not abstract. The question is not: should we amend our constitution? Or must we 'defend traditional marriage'?
The question is: should people like Richard and Ray, committed for 49 years, be singled out for discrimination? Should Ray not have the right to be recognized as Richard's next of kin after a lifetime together, after caring for him through sickness and now death?
Richard and Ray were planning their 50-year anniversary this September as a wedding ceremony and celebration of their commitment. Although Richard was ill, they forged ahead with their plans. But when Richard’s condition worsened, they asked their minister to come to the hospital so they could exchange vows. It was incredibly important for them to do that before Richard passed away.
Ray has decided that the September 16th event is still on, but now it will be a memorial tribute to Richard, open to Fair Wisconsin supporters who have been touched by Richard’s life. We will announce more details about this event in the next week or so.
Over the past year, Richard and Ray became a part of our campaign family, talking to many of us frequently as they planned their anniversary, organized speaking engagements, and spoke about their story in the media. Ray will continue to be part of our extended family. They’ve touched us deeply and they continue to touch many people who learn about their story.
Today, a group of us from Madison will join Milwaukee staffers at the visiting hours. Details are in the obituary.
If you’d like to leave a comment for Ray in memory of Richard, visit the online guest book.
You can also read Richard and Ray's guest op-ed, printed in December in the Wisconsin State Journal.