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Couples Chronicles — Interview 6
The Couple Who Created The Wedding
by Demian
First published in August 1987
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Walter L. Wheeler, a professional engineer, and J. Carey Junkin, a caterer, decided to share a residence after four months of “hanging around together.” They lived together for a year in New Jersey before moving to California to pursue a career opportunity for Walter. Their relationship has now spanned five years [in 1987. Walter died of a heart attack in May 1988.]

Carey and Walter helped start the national, politically oriented [now defunct] Couples, Inc. The group is working with the National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights to organize The Wedding, a demonstration for couples rights. The afternoon event is set for October 10, [1987] the day before the march.

The Wedding will dramatize the first march demand: “Legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships: that lesbian and gay male domestic partners are entitled to the same rights as married heterosexual couples.”

Has your relationship changed since you first met?

Walter: In the beginning, we got to know each other and to understand what was important to each of us. Now, after only five years, we can anticipate what the other feels.

Does that mean you never have arguments?

Walter: Of course we have arguments.

I can’t imagine any two people trying to have a relationship and not having arguments. That would mean that the two had changed so much that they had become the same person. It would be detrimental to the relationship.

Two individuals need to believe in what they do and speak out for it, even if it causes an argument.

How do you deal with conflicts?

Walter: Carey has a very intense temper. When both of us are very insistent about something, we have found the best thing to do is not discuss it until we’ve had a chance to step back and cool off.

When do you give each other the most support?

Carey: When the relationship or one of our common goals is attacked from the outside. Getting involved with the National March on Washington is a perfect example. It has drawn us closer together than anything else ever has.

When we first approached the march committee with the idea of our participation, we pointed out that they had represented every group in the country, including leather people and the transgender community, but they had completely forgotten couples. They tried to dismiss it as unimportant.

We pointed out that we represented a large segment of the gay population, and since one of the demands for the March on Washington was legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships, we should participate. Walter and I plotted strategy and worked things out together, eventually getting on board.

Walter: The national gay political leaders were not ready to deal with yet another group of people demanding recognition within the community. Because Carey and I reinforced each other’s belief that what we were doing was right, we were able to continue fighting for it.

I know I would have had difficulty continuing the fight if he hadn’t been standing there the whole time supporting me. He used my support the same way.

We see acceptance by the gay community as the first and most important step for couples. We want the entire straight community to accept our relationships as well. If we can’t get our gay brothers and sisters to accept us, then it doesn’t make sense for us to go any further.

Carey also supported me by coming to California when I was changing jobs — a major career move for me. He was willing to give up his work and start again with nothing.

Carey: Most recently I supported Walter when his father died in May.

Walter: That was particularly difficult. One of my brothers is accepting of our relationship; the other is not hostile, but won’t talk about it. My other relatives are not aware of the relationship.

Carey: Logistical questions arose, such as: where do I sit during the funeral, do I ride in the limo with the family and the rest of the spouses? We decided not to confront his family at that time.

My father thinks our relationship is a really great idea. Whenever he writes, he always includes a paragraph to Walter.

Most of my extended family knows about Walter, but they are Southerners, fairly conservative and religious. So, while they know and speak about him, it’s my “friend” Walter. They won’t deal with us as a married couple.

Walter: However, if Carey goes back to visit one of his aunts, for instance, they expect me to be there. They all seem to know exactly who I am, but they don’t want to discuss it.

Carey: It’s very Southern.

Do other gay men look to you as a model couple?

Walter: People in relationships tend to form their own standards. The people who look to us as role models are those who are looking for a relationship.

We have several, younger gay friends who say when they look at us, “It is possible for me to find somebody and have an ongoing, committed relationship, because I know somebody who does.”

Carey: Were we heterosexual, we’d be considered almost newlyweds. But in the gay world, our five-year partnership makes us “mom and dad” for a lot of people.

Walter: Part of it is community perspective. Living here in West Hollywood, which is very fast-paced and party-oriented, the emphasis is not on couples.

Carey: People who get into relationships in southern California tend to move to the suburbs. They disappear from the community, so there are not a lot of role models.

A funny by-product of being a couple is that our names have become interchangeable, even though our looks and voices are radically different. When you’ve been identified as a couple for so long, your names become one long word.

Have you experienced any hostility from the gay community with respect to your being a couple?

Carey: Definitely. We’ve heard everything from “Gee, what a shame you’ve taken somebody handsome off the market,” to “Oh, you’re just hiding from life.”

Walter: There’s a constant battle by single members of the community to try to step into the relationship. I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort to break it up, or that they like one of you better and want to take you away, into a new relationship…

Carey: …or an evening of fun and games.

Walter: I haven’t noticed it as much in Los Angeles as we did in New Jersey. There, we were dealing with much smaller communities where everyone knew everyone else and their business.

What are your political histories?

Walter: I was very active in the antiwar movement in the 70s, out of which comes my knowledge of how to run and organize things. I had not been involved with gay rights until now.

Carey: I formed a gay student group at the University of Kentucky, and was elected as an openly gay person for two terms in the student senate. I’ve also been involved with the Gay Activist Alliance in New York, and the Gay Academic Union.

What is the history of Couples, Inc.?

Carey: We were one of the founding couples of Couples/L.A., which is a nonpolitical, social and educational group serving the Los Angeles area. As the National March on Washington began to take shape, Couples/L.A. couldn’t take a position or do anything actively political because of its not-for-profit status. We got together with several other couples to form Couples, Inc., as a political entity, a public benefit corporation.

The age of the gay couple has arrived, but the majority of the couples concept groups, like Couples National Network [See Organizations Supporting Same-sex Couples], are not only nonpolitical, but overtly hostile to political activity.

Walter: Couples/L.A. was formed before the Network existed, and has never been part of it. However, the first group to appear was Couples/Long Beach-South Bay, created by Rick Schroeder and John Morgan. Some of the couples from that group formed Couples/L.A.

Rick went on to establish Couples National Network, a network of social organizations for couples.

Does the political work affect your relationship?

Carey: We were always very political. It’s one of the things that drew us together. It’s a common bond, like gardening and fixing up houses. It’s just one of the facets of our relationship.

What are your long-term plans as a couple?

Carey: We plan for it to last as long as — I hate to say it — “as long as we both shall live.” It sounds so bourgeois, but that’s basically how we planned it.

Walter: Somehow the straight community expects us to be completely different from the straight couple down the street. They don’t realize we have the same kinds of goals and problems as everybody else. The difference is, we don’t have the legal recognition.

It’s an irritation to have to go through all the legal games and paperwork for property sharing and Wills. Our counterparts in the straight community don’t have to go through all of that.

What kinds of legal papers have you executed?

Carey: I have a Will.

Walter: We keep putting off the Power of Attorney papers. It’s one of the worst things you can do; putting off something as important as establishing your legal connections.

Carey: We have the city’s Domestic Partnership contract available to us in West Hollywood, but there are few benefits, so we’ve never bothered.

Walter: For example, domestic partners do have full rights to speak for an incapacitated partner, but there are no major medical facilities in the city of West Hollywood. So while it is a good law, and a step in the right direction, it has no binding jurisdiction elsewhere and no real value to gay couples.

No matter what kinds of agreements Carey and I sign with each other, no matter how legally binding, that still will not force my insurance company to respect our relationship and give him benefits that would otherwise be due a married spouse.

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