A Conversation with Jeff Tabaco and Thom Watson
Jeff Tabaco and Thom Watson have been together ten years, after first having met when both were living in the Washington, DC area. The couple, who have a California registered domestic partnership, now live in Daly City, California, in the home in which Jeff grew up. The two men became engaged on Valentine’s Day, 2009, but four years later California’s Proposition 8 still prevents them from marrying.
The couple talked to us about the history of their relationship, their desire to marry in California, and the inadequacy of a domestic partnership to truly represent the love and commitment they have for each other.
Thom: “We first got to know each other through our blogs. We started reading each other’s words, then began exchanging comments and ideas, which evolved very naturally over time into friendship and then into love.”
Jeff: “Our relationship grew organically. I felt like he understood me. It became apparent very early on that we have this really nice rhythm.”
Thom: “We sometimes muse that we share a brain between us. We grew up in very different environments on opposite coasts, Jeff in a suburb of San Francisco and me in the rural Virginia highlands, but it feels like we were separated at birth. We often make the same connections between ideas, find ourselves saying the same thing at exactly the same time, or waking up with the same song in our heads, and just like old married couples we constantly finish each other’s sentences and share lots of inside jokes.”
Thom: “Within a few months after our first date, my father died very unexpectedly. We were still just getting to know each other, and then – boom – I was faced with this horrible tragedy. Forging a relationship is difficult even under the best of circumstances, and after my dad died I was not at my best. Jeff stood by me like a rock throughout the whole ordeal.”
Jeff: “Three years later, just a few weeks after we had moved here from Virginia, my dad also passed away suddenly. Thom was with me at the hospital through my dad’s last hours. My dad even took Thom aside and asked him to look out for me and my mother once he was gone. He understood that Thom was part of our family.
Thom: “We found strength in and for each other during life’s darkest moments, and we recognized that supporting one another ‘for better or for worse’ was more than just words. We weren’t able to make that vow in a legal marriage, but we were already living that way.”
Jeff: “Being there to support each other at times like that, we began to understand that we were meant to spend the rest of our lives together.”
Thom: “Not long after that, we began to realize that we wanted to take the next step in our relationship: to marry and make a public commitment in front of our friends and family, and celebrate our mutual love and respect. But we couldn’t, because of Proposition 8. And that hurts us both very deeply.”
Jeff and Thom obtained a domestic partnership for financial reasons four years ago, but it did not substitute for getting married. The process they went through to register as domestic partners did not have the same import or meaning as marriage.
Jeff: “While [opposite-sex] couples were over at City Hall actually getting married, we were in a little windowless room in the state building, where everyone else who was there was registering a business or changing their company’s name.”
Thom: “A domestic partnership registration includes no vows made to each other, only to the state. There’s no exchange of rings, only an exchange of paperwork and fees. No one says, ‘By the power vested in me by the State of California, I now declare you registered domestic partners.’ Who even would aspire to have that said to them? Married couples celebrate their wedding anniversaries. But no one we know celebrates their ‘domestic partnership registration anniversary’.”
Jeff: “Being domestic partners just doesn’t carry the same meaning as being married. Especially among our family, like say among our mothers, the whole ‘partnership’ thing was kind of abstract – you know, ‘What does that mean?’. But when there’s a wedding, it’s in cultural language that they understand.”
Thom: “While Jeff and I are registered domestic partners here in California, back in Virginia where nearly all my family live we have no more legal relationship to each other than we do to a random person on the street, and we’re prohibited from having any more legal relationship than that. Whenever we go to visit my family – for my nephews’ graduations, for Christmas, for my mom’s upcoming 70th birthday – for Jeff and me it’s as much an occasion of stress and worry as it is of anticipation and joy. Should something happen to me while we’re there, my mother, with whom I haven’t lived in over 30 years, would have more rights to make medical and legal decisions on my behalf than would Jeff, my life partner – my husband in all senses of the word, except legal reality.
“It’s painful to live in a country where you are continually confronted with a set of laws that suggest that you are less than someone else. That you are less American, that you are less human.”
Jeff: “We look forward to the day when we’ll have the same freedom to marry and the same legal recognition of our love and commitment as everyone else. As the son of immigrants, I grew up very aware of the search for a better life. My parents left the Philippines knowing there would be difficult changes ahead, but that their lives could change for the better. My mother’s favorite saying is, ‘As I breathe, I hope.’ My hope is that I’ll soon be able to marry the man I love, here in California.”