Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gay Man's Memorial for Dead Veteran Husband at Naval Academy as "As Don't Ask Don't Tell" Ends

The Chicago Sun-Times had a short article about the gay widower of a decorated navy veteran who approached the Naval Academy about setting his husband's ashes in the columbarium there. One of his husband's wishes had been to be cremated and have his ashes interred at his old school, where he had wonderful memories. So Mark Ketterson contacted the U.S. Naval Academy to inquire about the possibility, and the memorial coordinator asked his relationship to the deceased.

“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”
(The article is quoting Ketterson.) Fortunately, Ketterson was listed on the death certificate, and the couple had been married in Iowa when same-sex marriage became legal in that state. When the memorial coordinator received the death certificate and the marriage license, Ketterson said, "I was respected. From that moment on, I was next of kin. They were amazing.”

Ketterson's husband, John Fliszar, received the same standard memorial service and interment that all alumni of the academy receive. Ketterson was able to compose a memorial and publish it in the alumni magazine as well, which is also a standard option for families. The article says the notice created a bit of a stir, since it was clear that the couple was a same-sex union. But Ketterson has heard from a number of officers, including the organization USNA-Out, the organization for gay graduates of the naval academy. Again, the article quotes Ketterson:
“It’s been some months. I’m still doing mourning. As a gay man who grew up in a military family, getting communications from USNA, having heard from alumni who say, ‘You will always be one of us’ — that’s powerful, and healing.

“One of the e-mails said that I was a ‘trailblazer,’ I didn’t blaze any trail. I buried my husband.”
The article makes it clear, however, that the key to the way the Academy was able to deal with Mr. Ketterson was the marriage license. The author, Neil Steinberg, could not find a spokesperson to speak for the entire Navy on the topic. But one of the points he makes in the article is that without that marriage license to send to the memorial coordinator, this pleasant story does not seem to have been on the books. According to Mr. Ketterson's telling, it was a turning point when he was able to produce both the death certificate with his name listed and, especially, the marriage license. The article notes that "such practical concerns" were not on their minds when Ketterson and Fliszar married after dating for six years. Ketterson says he married "because I loved him and he asked me." But that act made so much difference later!

And the fact that they had the ability to marry made all the difference!

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