Local couples fight for gay rights in wake of Proposition 8

GLBT community continues to stare down obstacle

But some couples don't have that kind of time. Tom Trisko, 63, and John Rittman, 66, have nestled into retirement in their picturesque brick colonial in southwest Minneapolis. Unfortunately, their time away from work hasn't been as relaxing as expected. They wanted to travel Europe together, but have postponed their trip after spending hundreds of hours with lawyers and insurance companies to make sure they are protected in an emergency. Their passports say American, but their marriage certificate is from Canada.

Trisko, a former CFO and corporate economist, worries about what issues may arise in a medical emergency or death. His parents are dead. He is an only child and he has no offspring. "The only person I have in this world is John," he says, adjusting his glasses in a way that makes him look like a college professor. If Trisko's last days are in the ER, he has no assurance that his partner of 34 years will be allowed to preside over his affairs.

Trisko's family has lived in Minnesota for seven generations. His father fought in World War II. "He knew I was gay and he would not have fought in that war if he knew how this country would treat his son," he says forcefully.

Longtime couples Tom Trisko and John Rittman, and Doug Benson and Duane Gajewski, just want to get married
Jayme Halbritter
Longtime couples Tom Trisko and John Rittman, and Doug Benson and Duane Gajewski, just want to get married

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As he rants in his stately living room, where a framed certificate nearly two feet high marks the couple's 1999 marriage ceremony at St. Mark's Cathedral, he takes out a bound copy of the federal Constitution. He flips through the neatly marked pages, reading key phrases aloud: "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Having lived through the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, Trisko sees today's debate in the same light as the one over interracial marriages decades ago. He wonders why a country that rose up against the flawed "separate but equal" system would forbid gays the same marital rights.

"In this country, for some reason, we always have to fight for our rights," he says. "If we don't do it now, it's not going to happen." 

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