Gay Man with Alzheimer’s Eagerly Awaits Prop 8 Case Outcome

by Sylvia Rodemeyer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 9, 2011

Derence Kernek and Ed Watson have been waiting to walk down the aisle for more than 40 years.

On the eve of Proposition 8 being declared unconstitutional last summer; Watson, 78, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Now the couple is eagerly awaiting a decision from the Ninth Court of Appeals before Watson can no longer recognize the man he has loved for more than four decades.

Kernek and Watson met on the campus of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in Sept. 1970. They both worked for Sprint and were transferred to Kansas City, Mo. They reluctantly relocated, but it was suggested they live as far away from others as possible. Attitudes of time dictated this isolation, but the area was also rife with active Ku Klux Klan members.

"Safety was important, so we moved to the middle of nowhere, away from neighbors, co-workers and the KKK," said Kernek, 79.

A local Metropolitan Community Church provided a refuge. And on Sept. 18, 1989, 29 years after they met and on Watson's birthday, the couple had a commitment ceremony at their church with a few close friends. They worked at Sprint through retirement, but the couple kept their relationship a secret from their Kansas City co-workers.

After retirement, Watson and Kernek moved to Selma, Ore., and raised steers, sheep and vegetables on an organic farm. They moved to Palm Springs five years ago after they could no longer maintain the farm.

Soon after the moved to California, Watson and Kernek filed for a domestic partnership. They have also enjoyed the community and acceptance for which Palm Springs is known-Watson and Kernek particularly enjoy Prime Timers, a social group for older gay men.

"What's important to us now is to get married when Ed can still look in my eyes and remember me, remember us," said Kernek.

Kernek and Watson joined the Courage Campaign after marriage equality opponents successfully put Prop 8 on the ballot. The Courage Campaign is an organizing network of more than 700,000 supporters who specifically oppose Prop 8 and seek to advance LGBT and other progressive causes. And Kernek and Watson allowed the Courage Campaign to share their story through their new online video project, Testimony.

Watson's condition has deteriorated rapidly in recent months. He and Kernek, however, continue to hold out hope that the stay on marriage for gays and lesbians is lifted while the Ninth Circuit hears arguments and issues a ruling. Traveling to another state that allows same-sex couples to get married is simply not an option.

"It's getting difficult for Ed to walk from room to room, going to another state is out of the question," said Kernek.

Watson agreed.

"I have good days and bad, but I'm holding out hope," he said.