After 60 Years, an Unfaded Desire to Make It ‘Legal’

Author: Corey Kilgannon
Publication: New York Times (City Room)
Publication Date: May 11th, 2011

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Richard Adrian Dorr first sang for John Mace at the Juilliard School of Music in 1948: a rendition of the show tune “All the Things You Are,” in which the singer elegantly explains all the wonderful things his lover is to him.

Mr. Mace knew the song intimately and he accompanied Mr. Dorr on piano, with no sheet music.

The song ends with the hope that, “someday I’ll know this moment divine, when all the things you are, are mine.”

For Mr. Mace, who is 91, and Mr. Dorr, 83, that moment divine would come with a marriage in New York City where the couple has lived together for more than 60 years.

“Our friends have told us, ‘You two guys should get married in Massachusetts or Connecticut,’ but we’ve always been New Yorkers, and after 61 years of togetherness, we feel we have a right to be married in New York,” Mr. Mace said recently inside the sprawling apartment on West End Avenue and 96th Street in Manhattan where the couple, both of whom are voice teachers, live and work.

They have taught the likes of Bette Midler, Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha Richardson, Kim Basinger and Marsha Mason.

Both men continue to teach full time, and they took time between lessons to discuss their new role in the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State. They have become part of an online advertising campaign in support of the change. A short video about the couple has been making the rounds in the past week, as part of a campaign by Freedom to Marry, a gay-rights advocacy group that is helping lead the effort on same-sex marriage.

In 2009, a bill that would have allowed gays to wed was defeated in the State Senate after winning passage in the Assembly. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made same-sex marriage a priority and is campaigning across the state to promote the effort, leading some advocates on both sides of the issue to believe that the measure will come up for a vote before the end of the legislative session on June 20.

“This couple has lived and loved for 61 years — haven’t they waited long enough?” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “They made a commitment and lived life’s ups and downs together. They can’t wait forever — they deserve the freedom to marry.”

Mr. Dorr chuckled at the couple’s new role.

“We’ve become poster boys — poster seniors, I should say — because even if we don’t live to see it, we’ll have been of some help in getting it to happen,” he said as they sat in Mr. Mace’s studio, presided over by a stately bust of the opera singer Enrico Caruso. Nearby, on the wall was a photograph of Bette Midler signed with the words: “You are both so wonderful.”

Both men hid their sexuality when they were young, were closeted in their early years, including while they served in World War II. After the war, both studied at Juilliard with Mr. Mace graduating and working for the school while Mr. Dorr was still a student. The moment Mr. Mace first set eyes on the tall Mr. Dorr, with his lovely baritone voice and looks to match, he knew he was a goner.

At the time, he was newly married to a young female pianist.
“Back then, it was the thing to do if you were gay,” recalled Mr. Mace who graduated. “You got married because you thought you could hide it.”

Mr. Dorr became his voice student and then began renting a room in his apartment, even as Mr. Mace and his wife had a newborn son together. By 1950, Mr. Mace and his wife divorced amicably and Mr. Mace gained custody of their son, Paul. Both men raised him and mourned him after he was killed in 1983 in a motorcycle accident. The boy called Mr. Mace “Pop,” and called Mr. Dorr “Unc,” for uncle. They helped raise the daughter of their Panamanian-born housekeeper.

Living among entertainers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the two men have been embraced as a committed couple.

“It was all very accepted,” Mr. Mace said. “We were in a musical crowd and we were invited everywhere.”

In fact, their many vocal students came to them through word of mouth from friends and other students. They lived for a time in the Ansonia building on West 73rd Street near Broadway and in 1969 they bought the Straus mansion at West 106th Street and Riverside Drive and turned one of the floors into a theater.

The fact that they were not an “official couple” continued to disturb them, Mr. Dorr said.

“We have friends who say, ‘I’ve always considered you guys married,’ but the reality is, we don’t have official status here,” he said. “When I fill out a form, I have to identify myself as single, when in reality, it’s spouse and spouse.”

The two men attribute the longevity of their relationship to a perfect match in heart and art.

“We had a mutual love for singing and just a never-ending sense of togetherness right from the start,” Mr. Dorr said. “You can imagine, we encountered some problems 60 years ago, but our love helped us overcome them.”

The two men said they would waste no time getting married if it were made legal. They would go to City Hall and get their marriage license and have a quiet ceremony.

“It would be sort of a completion,” Mr. Mace said, before turning his attention to next student.