Amidst all the legal and political wrangling over marriage equality in Utah, it can be easy to forget that we’re talking about the lives of real people. This oversight was made particularly poignant for me after reading this op-ed in Sunday’s edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. Written by Tom Clark, a photographer who has made his home here in Utah for the last five years, the op-ed relives the loss of Clark’s partner, Les, to cancer over 17 years ago.
In the days following Les’ death, Clark went to the mortuary to make arrangements for the funeral with his own daughter and Les’ sister. After being seated at a round table, the mortician began to ask a series of questions relating to the funeral:
I answered his first question, at which point he looked at me and said, “What is your relationship to the deceased?” I told him that we were in a relationship and that I had Les’ durable power of attorney and was the executor of his estate, to which he responded, “I will only speak to the next of kin. Who is the next of kin here?”
The dismissive and sneering tone in his voice was devastating.
The mortician then proceeded to direct all of his questions to Les’ sister, who would then direct the questions to Clark.
“In the midst of the shock and grief that enveloped me that day I was also filled with the awful reminder that I meant nothing in the eyes of the law where Les was concerned,” recounts Clark. “The mortician may have been following the letter of the law, but his heartless disregard for my humanity was so far beyond the pale that still to this day I have a hard time believing it happened.”
A marriage certificate would not have made us anymore married than we already were. But it would have spared me the indignity of being ignored on the day of Les’ death by a mortician with a heart of stone.
Clark’s vulnerable retelling of making funeral arrangements without the legal protection of marriage is heartbreaking. But it is also hopeful for the way it points to how far we’ve come in only the last two decades.
Since Clark penned his op-ed, marriage equality has been temporarily halted in Utah. But the question of marriage equality, even with the halt, is already settled. Full marriage equality will eventually return to the Beehive State. It is no longer a matter of if, but when.