Partners Tim Sagen’s and Ken Hoole’s first meeting was a case of mistaken identity. After reading a magazine article entitled “A Gentleman’s Search for Sin in Seattle,” Tim bought himself a drink at his very first gay bar. Ken walked into the same bar and, thinking Tim was someone he knew, gave him a friendly wave. Tim went over to his table and introduced himself. That was 47 years ago.
“That was the beginning of the relationship. And for me it was like love at first sight, almost,” said Tim. “I even wrote his license plate down so I could remember his car.”
The couple stayed “pretty closeted” in Seattle, and remained so after moving a few years later to Fort Collins, Colo., then a small, conservative town of famers and ranchers. Tim was an electrical engineer in Seattle and later worked for the City of Fort Collins. Ken was a social worker. They were both concerned about losing their jobs and so kept the relationship private.
“I was particularly worried about losing my job in Seattle because I worked for Boeing and had a security clearance,” said Tim. “And in those days, they thought that somehow you were a security risk if you were gay. So they actually had people who watched the gay bars to see who was going there, things like that.”
Tim said he “kind of hid Ken for awhile” when they first moved to Fort Collins. He said that he felt guilty about it but didn’t know what else to do.
“You know, growing up gay, you just learn to play the game,” he said. “It’s like play-acting…I just accepted the fact that that’s the way the world was.”
Despite their fears, the couple eventually felt more comfortable being open. They got involved with the gay rights movement, testifying before the state legislature and participating in door-to-door campaigns with organizations like Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and they still attend PrideFest in Denver every year.
In their eyes, progress toward tolerance of same-sex couples and marriage equality in the United States has been gradual, but they feel things have changed very fast in the past few years. Same-sex marriage became legal in Colorado in October 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court abruptly turned away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions.
Over the course of their relationship, Tim and Ken have built quite a collection of documents both legal and sentimental. In their commitment ceremony in Seattle in 1970, they recited their own vow: a pledge to “seek through kindness and understanding to achieve with you the life we have envisioned.” There is a “certificate of participation” to commemorate their 1987 trip to attend an equal rights demonstration in Washington, D.C. They signed a “certificate of committed partnership” issued by the Office of the City Clerk of Denver County in 2000. They have civil unions in both Colorado and Vermont. When they travel, they carry powers of attorney, living wills and other legal paperwork as evidence of their relationship, should it be called into question.
Marriage was always the ultimate goal, they said, and not just for the tax benefits or peace of mind.
“There’s also the emotional aspect of it, it’d just be nice to have your relationship recognized in that way. It’d be emotionally fulfilling,” said Tim. “So, you look at the practical and you look at the emotional and…your heart sometimes is what makes the difference.”
Tim and Ken were legally married in a small ceremony in Vermont one week after Colorado legalized same-sex marriage. When they returned, their marriage was legally recognized in their home state. They registered their Vermont marriage license in Colorado just in case.