Crossing State Lines to Marry After 60 Years

Eric Marcoux & Eugene Woodworth | Portland, OR

UPDATED May 2014: Since Eric & Eugene shared their story, same-sex couples in Oregon won the freedom to marry when a federal judge ruled in favor of marriage.

In December, Eric Marcoux and Eugene Woodworth finally made a legal vow to each other after just over 60 years of being a committed couple. They drove across the border from Oregon to Clark County in Washington state, waiting for their turn at the marriage license counter to fill out the necessary paperwork, declare their legal commitment to each other, and say "I Do."  

But Eric and Eugene did not want to get married in Washington. They wanted to get married where they live, in Oregon. 

Right now, marriage supporters in Oregon, led by Oregon United for Marriage, are working hard to qualify a ballot initiative for November 2014 that would strike down a constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marriage and replace it with an amendment affirming the freedom to marry for all.

But the outcome won't be clear until November, and Eric and Eugene couldn't afford to wait that long. Just eight days after they tied the knot in Washington, Eugene passed away.

He had been suffering from congestive heart failure, and doctors had told him toward the end of last year that he only had a few weeks to live. By getting legally married, Eugene and Eric hoped to be able to legally protect themselves and ensure that they can access the government benefits that all married couples are entitled to.

Eric spoke with a local news station in Oregon about why marriage matters - and discussed his wonderful six decades with Eugene:

Eric and Eugene have been together since the day they met in Chicago, on June 13, 1953. Eugene was a ballet dancer, Eric had just returned from a Trappist monastery, and the two fell for each other quickly. When they began living together, it was actually against the law.

But they were in love: "There was nothing else for me to do other than spend my life with him," Eugene told The Oregonian earlier this year. "From that very instant that we met - that was it."

In 60 years, Eric and Eugene have declared their love and commitment in non-legal ceremonies twice, most recently in a Buddhist wedding - since Eric has been a teacher of Buddhism for over 23 years.

They have been longtime advocates of the freedom to marry, working closely with Basic Rights Oregon, a statewide advocacy group in Oregon, for many years. In 2010, they appeared in an ad for Why Marriage Matters, a national public education program designed by Freedom to Marry in partnership with state-based groups and other national organizations. 

It's wonderful that Eric and Eugene were able to cross into Washington and tie the knot, a moving bookend to their 60 years together, a fitting tribute for their love before Eugene passed away. 

But this loving couple should never have had to give up on their dream of getting married in their home state of Oregon. They should not have had to wait for 60 years to be able to publicly declare their love and commitment for each other in a legal ceremony. And they should not have been forced into crossing the border into Washington just to ensure that they could legally protect each other. 

No person in the country should have to wait any longer for the basic respect of being able to marry the person they love. Eric and Eugene's journey demonstrates the indignity of denying the freedom to marry to same-sex couples - and no more couples should have to go through the same struggle again. 

Listen to an audio story of Eric and Eugene from OPB, check out a beautiful slideshow of their legal marriage in Washington, and read a moving Q&A from several years ago in The Oregonian

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