Jim Lawser & Duane Bandel
Jim Lawser & Duane Bandel
On July 19, 2006, exactly twenty years after they first met, Jim Lawser and Duane Bandel traveled to Vancouver, Canada to proudly declare their love for each other by getting married.
One year earlier, on their nineteenth anniversary, Duane proposed to Jim, suggesting that they make the trek to Canada and tie the knot to recognize their shared commitment. Jim said yes, and over the next year, the couple worked with a Vancouver-based wedding planner to make all of the arrangements for the big day from across the border.
The ceremony took place at the Vancouver wedding commissioner's home, in her yard. It was small: Just Jim and Duane, two friends who acted as official witnesses, Jim's cousin who acted as the ring bearer, the officiant, the wedding planners, and the videographers. After the ceremony, the wedding party went to Queen Elizabeth Park, the highest point in Vancouver, for lunch.
"The wedding was wonderful," Duane said. "It was a perfect day, and we had a fabulous lunch, and we just spent the rest of the day glowing in the beautiful July weather."
When the wedding was over and they crossed back into their home state of Minnesota, however, they knew that their marriage no longer held any legal status. Minnesotans don’t have the freedom to marry, and U.S. federal law denies any legal respect – and 1,100 protections and responsibilities – to legally married same-sex couples with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
This year, Jim and Duane are looking forward to finally being respected as what they are: a loving, committed married couple. In Minnesota, legislators are working toward the passage of a bill that would extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, and federally, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing DOMA, which they could repeal by ruling unconstitutional.
Both moves would be critical for Jim and Duane, who must face daily insecurity because they are not legally respected as a married couple.
In the early spring of 2002 Jim and Duane decided to pay a lawyer to draft legal documents that would guarantee certain protections afforded to different-sex married couples. These rights include inheritance, durable power of attorney, and the right to make health care decisions for each other as stated in a health care directive. Coincidently, a few weeks after the papers were signed, Duane was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.
Although Jim and Duane had all of the necessary legal paperwork, they did not have the materials with them, and the admitting doctor refused to speak with Jim until copies of the legal documents were included in Duane's medical records. Jim was forced to drive home to get the paperwork before the doctor would speak with him. After a series of illnesses, near-death experiences, hospitalizations, doctor visits and medical tests, Duane spent the next five months at home recovering and working hard to regain his strength and weight. During his hospitalizations and throughout his recovery, Jim was able to take sick time from his job to care for Duane only because his supervisor permitted him to - not because she was legally obligated to do so, since Jim is not legally Duane's spouse in Minnesota. Through all of this, Jim remained at Duane's side, offering love, strength and support, just as any committed, loving spouse would do.
Now, the couple always carries copies of their medical records and legal paperwork with them on flash drives. This way, they are always ready for the unexpected.
Last year, Jim and Duane joined Minnesotans United for All Families, the coalition working toward the freedom to marry in the state, to defeat an anti-gay amendment that would have permanently limited the freedom to marry. They signed on to help speak out against the amendment, which potentially would have further invalidated their marriage in their own community.
They participated in Andrew's Round Table, an initiative named in honor of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, an openly gay Minnesotan who died last year while serving in Afghanistan, Jim and Duane travel to local events to share their story. They talked about their 26 years together as a couple, how they've supported each other through challenging or trying times, and why they don't want to see their home state constitutionally exclude couples like them from sharing a formal commitment to each other.
They explained why marriage matters to them, saying that they were treated differently - more respectfully - after coming back to Minnesota after their Vancouver wedding.
"It was suddenly like our relationship became legitimate," Duane said. "We had been together for almost 20 years, and yet people thought of us as roommates. And when we told people that we were getting married, it was like suddenly we were really a couple. People get that we're a real couple - that our relationship is about love and commitment."