They met in 1993 doing country line dancing at the Town House Bar in St. Paul, fell in love and eventually made a commitment to each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, long before it was legal or accepted.
So nearly a year after Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage, Ron Oveson and John Cody decided to make it official June 27 in a small, intimate ceremony in the chambers of Judge Kathryn Quaintance. No muss, no fuss, just them and a couple of witnesses, then a nice dinner at the Capital Grille.
“It was really a nice time,” Cody said.
“One of the best times I’ve had in a long time,” Oveson said.
Minnesota started issuing its own marriage certificates to same-sex couples on Aug. 1, a year ago Friday. Oveson and Cody talked about reasons to marry and whether it would be buying into a tradition that had rejected them for so long. Then there were the legal rights they were denied unless they were married: access to medical information and other next-of-kin issues.
Oveson and Cody didn’t get married because of family pressure, hidebound tradition, social pressure or even the desire to throw a grand party.
“We got married because we wanted to,” Oveson said.
Asked if they felt different after the ceremony, Cody said, “Not at first, but after a while there is something very different in being married.”
A week after their wedding, their reasons for getting married were driven home to them.
They took a trip to International Falls to visit Oveson’s mother. Along the way, Oveson began to feel ill. After he ate dinner, it just got worse, and he ended up doubled over from pain, heading to the hospital.
The nurses were concerned. Inevitably, they began to ask about insurance and registration information, as they always do.
That’s when something monumental happened, something that might not have been possible a year ago and certainly not when they first committed to each other.
“This is my husband, John,” Oveson told the nurses. “He can answer all of your questions.”
In a letter of thanks they wrote to Judge Quaintance, Oveson and Cody wrote:
“Without hesitation, they took John into the registration room where he gave them all of my information. This was the first time I had the opportunity to introduce John as my husband. I felt tremendous relief that I could just focus on working with the nurses and doctors.”
Oveson had an intestinal blockage due to scar tissue from several surgeries last year, when he spent much of the summer in the hospital. His ongoing health issues made them realize how imperative marriage was, finally giving each other the permission and right to take care of each other’s health.
As they wrote to Quaintance: “I wanted to pass this on because it meant so much to both of us that, in a small-town emergency room during a medical crisis we had complete confidence that our rights would be respected, that we could be together, and I knew that John could make medical decisions for me at a time I could not make them for myself. Some have asked us why we got married after 21 years together. This is why.”
Before their marriage, “technically (health privacy) laws wouldn’t allow them to even let him know what was wrong,” Oveson said. In some hospitals, the partner would be kept in the dark while the hospital tried to reach family.
This Wednesday, Oveson needs more surgery, and again Cody will be able to be with him and make decisions in the event of an emergency.
While he used to see marriage as an unnecessary convention, Cody now he sees it as something that frees him from being “a second-class citizen.”
“I just have so many rights I didn’t have before,” Cody said. “If I had to chose one word on how it makes me feel, I would say, ‘safer.’
“It makes me feel safer in society.”
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin