When they met, 23 years ago, Kelly was "attracted to her immediately. She was strong and self-confident." Quips Ruth, "I thought she was cute. I fell hard and quick." When we began our photo session, Ruth made it quite clear that they preferred not to pose Kelly kneeling beside her chair, even if it meant for a more pleasing composition. "This is how it is in our life. This is how we want to be seen." That pretty much was the end of the discussion about Ruth's disability. She has been wheelchair bound since a car accident in high school, but the couple had far more important things to discuss in terms of their relationship.
Ruth sums up their relationship. "We've gone through a lot of stuff together. At the core, I still love Kelly and know her deeper and love her more than I did before. She's the person I think about most of the day." Kelly adds, "We've built a life together and we're still best friends and in love."
"We're committed even though we're not recognized," says Ruth. "I've worked over the years to say we're just as legitimate as my six siblings who were married in the Catholic Church and are acknowledged. To find somebody in your life that you can share a relationship with and keep it going with is probably one of the most sacred things that can happen. And I think it's a unique thing and it's a lot of work. We are committed to the relationship. I know a lot of folks who have walked away from long-term relationships for no other reason than they just were not committed."
When asked if their families were supportive of their relationship, the answers were mixed. Like many LGBT couples, their parents and siblings accept them as individuals but not as a couple or as spouses. While Ruth's very large family is more accepting of the relationship, Kelly's family is not. "They are nice to Ruth but I know they do not condone our relationship at all. My nephew got married and Ruth wasn't invited even though we had been together for 18 years. My parents come for Thanksgiving but don't acknowledge us as a couple. My mother rationalizes us living together because we are two women who would never marry a man and so we live together for company." Ruth quips, "We're the 18th century."
Yet Ruth has a very interesting perspective on the matter. "How important is it for people to say words rather than show actions? Do they need to say the words, 'We know you're gay, we know this, we know that,' or is it enough that Kelly's parents want to come here for Thanksgiving every year because they really like it? Is it enough that they fret over the accessibility of their house when I'm going to visit them and they work hard to make it ok? Do my siblings fret over my sister getting the right words for Kelly for my mother's death notice? How do you measure support?"
consequently, Ruth and Kelly were undecided about what to do for their 20th anniversary. Ruth remembers, "Kelly was really into our 20th anniversary. 'We've got to do something. Let's rent a room. Let's have a dinner. Let's invite your family. Let's invite my family.' And then when we really started to think about it, it was like....we're not even sure your family will come when I die much less will they come for our 20th. We nixed it after a while."
"You're invited to everything but what do they really think? So do we want to have a celebration and put out a lot of money if we're not really clear about the breadth and depth of their acceptance of our relationship? So we're not doing it ........we're getting hardwood floors instead."