Bonnie Foerster calls Beverly Grossaint her soul mate.
“I was born for her, and she was born for me,” Foerster, 74, told 3rd District Judge Patrick Corum on Tuesday.
From the time they met in New York in 1968, until Grossaint’s death in May in Salt Lake City at age 82, “there was never anyone else in my heart,” she said in an interview.
And, as of Tuesday, thanks to Corum’s ruling, Foerster and Grossaint are married in the eyes of the law.
“I’m numb from happiness. I’m married,” Foerster said through tears outside Corum’s courtroom after the ruling. “I’m a married woman. I’ve waited 50 years.”
Foerster’s lawyer, Roger Hoole, told Corum that having a marriage made legal after the death of one party, though rare, is not unprecedented.
“An unsolemnized marriage can be recognized, even involving a deceased person,” Hoole said, such as in common-law marriages.
Foerster met Grossaint in January 1968 in New York City under unhappy circumstances: Foerster was escaping an abusive husband. When Grossaint first saw her, Foerster had broken ribs and was wearing dark glasses to hide black eyes.
“Two seconds [after we were introduced], she came back and told me to take the damn sunglasses off,” Foerster said. When she did, “[Beverly] said, ‘I can see your soul.’ And I fell in love. I looked into her blue eyes, and I fell in love.”
The two moved in together shortly after that meeting, back when most of society shunned lesbian and gay couples. They weren’t quiet about it, either, Foerster said. “You have to stand up for what’s right."
Foerster said she and Grossaint, a proud veteran of the Women’s Army Corps, marched in the first gay pride parade in New York City in 1970.
“We had people throw garbage at us,” Foerster told the judge. “We went home, took showers and got clean. Those people still have garbage in their hands.”
The couple moved to Utah in 1979 to be near Grossaint’s ailing mother. “Thirty-nine years later, we’re still here,” Foerster said. Like many widows and widowers, Foerster continues to refer to her partner in the present tense, even though Grossaint died in May — “May 27th, at 5:45 p.m.,” as Foerster recites.
Foerster did the laundry, and Grossaint did the yardwork. They took turns cooking. Grossaint worked for the Utah Public Service Commission for many years, while Foerster worked at an insurance company until 1988, when she was put on disability for back problems and worsening eyesight.
For much of the past 30 years, Grossaint was Foerster’s caretaker. She has had 29 back surgeries, survived breast and cervical cancer, and endured macular degeneration that has left her legally blind. Foerster also suffers from osteomyelitis, a rare bone infection, and, in April 2016, had to have both legs amputated above the knee.
Grossaint’s health problems — emphysema and chronic heart failure — meant “I was her caregiver for the last three years,” Foerster said.
She said it was because of those health issues, and the fear that their marital status would interfere with Foerster’s Medicaid, that they never married when it became legal for LGBTQ couples to do so.
The only question Corum didn’t settle in Tuesday’s hearing was the date that Foerster could consider herself and Grossaint married.
The petition, filed by Hoole, set a date for June 26, 2015 — the day the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Corum suggested the date could be set at Dec. 20, 2013, the day U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled for the plaintiffs in Kitchen v. Herbert, legalizing gay marriage in Utah.
Corum commented that the effective date could be pushed back to 1968, when Foerster and Grossaint began to live together, but “that makes it [legally] messier than it needs to be.”
Corum’s ruling went by so fast, he had to stop and tell Foerster, “It means it’s done.” The judge walked from the bench to give Foerster, in her wheelchair, a congratulatory hug. “There’s no bailiff here,” Corum said. “Don’t tell anybody.”
Hoole wheeled a tearful Foerster, holding two tiny rainbow flags, from the courtroom. The only “wedding” guest — Rob Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center — gave her a bouquet of flowers.
Foerster declared, “I’m an old bride, but I’m a happy one.”