"We've Felt Married For 25 Years, No Matter What The Law Said"

Photo via Facebook.com.
Until Friday, Ohio was one of the 13 states with a ban still in place to prevent gay marriage. On Friday morning, that changed when an historic Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage a right nationwide.

To mark this huge victory, we chatted with Tess Tessier, 59, and Tara McKibben, 66, two long-term domestic partners — 25 years together and counting! — based in Youngstown, Ohio, about what legalized same-sex unions in their Midwestern hub could mean for them.

Read on for their sweet anecdotes about how they fell in love, their families’ shifting reactions to their partnership, the challenges they’ve experienced raising a son in a swing state, and how their heartwarming relationship will (and won't) change, now that their marriage is legal.

How did you meet?
Tara McKibben: "I was a student at Youngstown State University, where Tess taught philosophy and religion. I’d asked another person at the university about where to find a good community of women. That person said, 'Why don't you go talk to Dr. Tessier?’"

Tess Tessier:
"I knew Tara was 'the one' right away. I knew before I even spoke to her, when I could only see the back of her head sitting in my office, but it scared the daylights out of me because she was a student. Even though she wasn't in any of my classes, I felt there was a power issue, and I didn’t want to take advantage of her. When I told her that, she said, ‘Currently, I’m not that impressed with you,' and it was love. Our first date was at a Quaker meeting, and we’ve been together ever since."
Had you each been in relationships with women before?
TT: "Yes, I’d been out since I was 20...and I’d moved to Youngstown for that teaching position with a woman I was with for nine years. When Tara started spending time with me, the community immediately understood. We didn't have to announce anything."
Advertisement

I knew Tara was the one before I even spoke to her, when I could only see the back of her head sitting in my office!



TM: "I had come out to myself, but not to anyone else. There was a woman that I knew through the church. We became good friends, and I fell in love with her. When I fell for her, I knew I was gay despite having been in straight relationships until then."

How did your family and friends react to your relationship?
TT: "I had come to Youngstown from Southern California, where I’d been very politically active. It was a nightmare when I moved to Ohio. It was at least 15 years behind. Nobody was out, and the lesbian community was very fractured and dysfunctional here. The discrimination was very covert here. No one says anything to your face."

TM: "The environment I grew up in was lily-white — a very conservative community. I wouldn't have come out to my family as soon as I did, but about a year into my relationship with Tess, a mutual friend of mine and my sister’s kept telling me, ‘Your sister thinks you're gay, and she would be very understanding if you came out.’ So, I came out to my sister, and she immediately told me I couldn’t spend time alone with her kids anymore. Tess was not welcome at any family gatherings...I decided not to go to any family gatherings for several years. My brother was the only one in my immediate family who accepted our relationship. He decided if Tess wasn't included in family gatherings, he wasn't going to be either."

Tara was not allowed to swim in the pool there because she wasn't considered a family member.



Have you dealt with other forms of discrimination over the years?
TT: "Tara has multiple sclerosis, and we’re in a domestic partnership. For years, they wouldn't let me buy insurance for her or put her on my plan, and there was discrimination against us at the university. Tara was not allowed to swim in the pool there because she wasn't considered a family member. I also couldn’t provide tuition remission for our son, Andrew.

"I finally did get domestic partnership benefits through a man who was close with the university’s Board of Trustees. He was a good ol' boy-type and didn't have a dog in that hunt, but he worked very hard...they passed the vote by 5-4 the day before the Defense of Marriage Act would have made it illegal. I remember some faculty members brought a lawsuit to try to force the university to give domestic partnership benefits, and they asked me to testify. When they asked me if I’d experienced discrimination, I remembered the lifeguards at the pool asking Tara to leave because she wasn't family, and I broke down.

How have you seen those kinds of negative attitudes change over the years?
TT: "Attitudes over the past five years or so seem much better, but the most dramatic change I’ve seen has been with students. Nowadays, if they spoke against gays, they'd hear about it from their peers. It’s not socially acceptable. The faculty has always been very accepting and kind towards us."

We’re not legally married, but we couldn’t be more ‘married.’

Advertisement
When you met, Tara had a son who was six from a prior relationship. What was it like raising him together?
TT: "It wasn't easy. When he was younger, I’d ask if anyone gave him a hard time at school because we’re gay and he’d say 'No, I'm fine. Everything’s fine.' Much later, when he was an adult, he said it was the most horrible thing he’d experienced— they teased him all the time."

Did your families ever come around to your relationship?
TM: "Recently, my mother died. Our relationship had gotten really bad for a while, then it seemed to get much better. When she got sick, she started coming up with excuses about why Tess and I shouldn't go see her. When she was actually dying, everyone was there but me. When I found out, one of my sisters told me, ‘Mom didn't want you to be there.’ That was really, really difficult."

Do you plan to get married when it becomes legal in Ohio?
TT: "We’re not legally married, but we couldn’t be more 'married'. It's a wonderful thing, but it amazes me we're even having this conversation. It's taken so long."
Advertisement

More from Politics

We want to get something out the way. This is not "the most 2016 image ever." The most 2016 image ever is, like, Donald Trump being scared by a bird. But...
When thinking about the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opening this weekend, the first thing that comes ...
On Saturday, police arrested a 20-year-old suspect in connection with a shooting at a Washington state mall that left five people dead, reports The ...
If the chaotic party politics of the 2016 election have left you feeling completely birdbrained, this video is for you. The Founding Fathers (presented ...
The 2016 presidential election has been a captivating contest. If you feel like sometimes you can't look away, well, you're not alone. Even celebrities ...
Update: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney announced in a press conference that dashcam and body cam video of the department's interaction with...
Election Day lasts just one day — a 24-hour culmination of the seemingly never-ending campaign season. But we’ll spend the next two, four, six years ...
What can you do to make the candidates first head-to-head battle as pleasant as possible? What is the secret to keep yourself smizing as you listen to the ...
In the social order of bonobos, females rule and develop cross-generational bonds to keep the males in check. A senior female takes charge, intervening ...
The first presidential debate is finally upon us. On Monday, our candidates for commander-in-chief will finally go head-to-head on issues that matter ...
1. World News: Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency after suffering its largest power outage since 1980.The outage left 1.5 million Puerto ...
Update: Officer Betty Shelby, the policewoman who fatally shot Terence Crutcher last Friday, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter, NBC News ...
Step aside, old-school political merch. We're way past bumper stickers and buttons. With the election just months away, people across the country are ...
Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis: Hillary Clinton from Funny Or Die Will Tim Kaine be president for nine months if Hillary Clinton gets pregnant? ...