Back to News & Commentary

If You Think Marriage Doesn't Matter - Think Again

Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann
Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann
Roy Badger,
Share This Page
February 3, 2014

I met Garth through mutual friends when we were both students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I was immediately struck by what an amazing heart Garth has, and to this day I am amazed by his kindness and generosity.

I've been truly blessed to be able to call Garth my partner over the last 37 years, but when he almost lost his life because of the rash decisions of a less than supportive family member, I was reminded how important it is to be his husband.

A few years ago, Garth was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to have most of his right lung removed. Before he went in, we decided, based on the advice of Garth's surgeon, to have medical and financial powers of attorney drawn up. I am so glad we made that decision or else Garth might not still be here.

Garth had what we thought was a successful surgery at Columbia St. Mary's in August of 2011. Garth woke up post-op and was able to talk to family. Then he fell asleep and didn't wake up again that day. That night he had a medical emergency, the nature of which the doctors have never been able to figure out. He went into cardiac arrest three times over the next couple of days, and finally in an effort to give his body time to stabilize, he was put into a medically-induced coma. The coma was supposed to only last for seven to 12 days, but stretched out to nearly a month.

During those fraught and terrifying days, we had numerous "family" meetings, to consider his situation. His surgeon, a fantastic guy, was confident he would come out of this. But some of the others on the team were not as convinced and recommended allowing termination. Garth's father was on that team. That's right. Instead of listening to the advice of Garth's doctor, his father wanted to pull the plug. It was brought to my attention by other family members that Garth's dad had even gone to an attorney to see if he could "override" our powers-of-attorney and request termination of his son.

Garth's father has never been supportive. When Garth's parents found out he was gay when he was 19, they kicked him out. His father even threw a piece of furniture at him as he was packing up his car to leave. He was only allowed to come home once a year for Christmas for years until his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004 and decided she wanted him back in the family.

Thankfully, I did have power of attorney and the answer to Garth's dad was "NO", allowing me to continue to be in control.

After 28 days in a coma the most amazing thing happened- Garth woke up! He went on to a full recovery. To this day, the thing that upsets us the most wasn't that he wanted to take Garth off life support. What hurts the most is that he still doesn't see me as Garth's spouse after all this time.

After nearly four decades of being together, Garth and I had kind of lost hope that we'd ever be able to get married- it's always seemed like such a long shot. But now with the momentum that we are seeing with gay and lesbian couples gaining the freedom to marry in states across the country he have hope. By standing up here in our home state of Wisconsin, where we have lived and loved together for most of our adult lives, we hope we can bring that same sense of hopefulness to other gay couples and help bring love and equality to the Badger State!

Learn more about same-sex marriage and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page