Capitol Idea: Just Who is Destroying the Institution of Marriage, Exactly?

A simple 77-year-old man from Indio, Calif., could tell televangelist Pat Robertson what marriage really is all about.

Religious conservatives love to pontificate about “traditional marriage,” claiming to defend it. Now we know better. One of the religious right’s champions, Pat Robertson, told a caller to his national television program this week that it is okay to divorce an ailing spouse.

Just don’t tell that to Ron Wallen. Divorce wasn’t even in the 77-year-old California man’s mind when his spouse was dying of cancer, even though those were “four years of pure hell, with more hospitalizations than I can count using both hands and feet.” Wallen says it wasn’t his spouse with leukemia. Rather, “we had leukemia!” he declares. The couple’s togetherness was never in doubt. There was no way Wallen was going to cut and run. “And as rotten as those four years were, he says, “They were made ever so much easier because we had each other for comfort and love, and because we were married.”

If you haven’t guessed by now, Wallen’s spouse was another man, by the name of Tom Carrollo. The two lived a love story that lasted 58 years. “And, from the first day, we enjoyed a sense of togetherness, which never weakened in both good times and bad,” Wallen says.They were married in 2008, during the brief period when California permitted same-sex marriage. “We all know that part of the marriage vow is ‘in sickness and in health,’ and even at our wedding we were already facing the worst because Tom had been diagnosed with lymphoma, which later morphed into leukemia,” Wallen says. “And, knowing the handwriting on the wall, I threw a party for Tom’s 80th birthday. It was the last time we had both of our families and all of our friends together, celebrating with us. That was a wonderful day.”

Wallen told his love story to Congress this summer during a Senate hearing on the repeal of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing Wallen’s union, and now that his beloved Tom is gone, Wallen can’t collect the Social Security survivor’s benefit that any heterosexual widower simply would take for granted. He told the senators:

With this rejection of Tom’s benefits, my reliable income went from $3,050 a month, down to $900 per month. To pay the mortgage and taxes each month on my home is $2,078. By spending some of our savings, I could have stayed there longer while planning next steps for my future. But you don’t have to be an accountant to see that from the first day after Tom passed away, I have had to worry about how I could pay that mortgage and support myself.

You may be thinking that lots of widows and widowers downsize, and make adjustments, after the loss of their spouse. Downsizing is one thing, but panic sale of a home which is underwater, is another. That is my current reality. I am selling the last house I shared with my husband in a panic sale because I can’t afford the mortgage and expenses. I am spending my days and nights sorting through our possessions, packing boxes to move — even while I am still answering the condolence cards that come in the mail.

Despite this pain and hardship, made worse by our nation’s anti-gay bias written into federal law, it’s clear Wallen wouldn’t have done it differently. There was no way he would have left his dying husband’s side, not even for a minute.

It is Ron Wallen, a gay man, who could teach Pat Robertson a thing or two about what a real “traditional marriage” is all about.


Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as “Just Who is Destroying the Institution of Marriage, Exactly?” on Blogcritics.


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