Features » April 17, 2006
For folks like Samuel K. Beaumont, Sr., this year’s Defense of Marriage Acts, set to appear in November on ballots in Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Idaho, Virginia and Wisconsin, do more than legislate the definition of marriage.
They perpetuate a cruel injustice that Beaumont knows well.
The documentary film Tying the Knot chronicles the five-year legal battle Beaumont waged to keep the Bristow, Oklahoma ranch that he and partner Earl Meadows shared for 24 years. When Meadows died in 2000, a gaggle of his long-lost cousins went to court and evicted Beaumont from the 80-acre ranch, taking at once his home and livelihood. Despite Meadows’ notarized will–which left his estate to Beaumont–and what Beaumont calls the couple’s “marriage,” Oklahoma courts bestowed the estate to the Meadows family.
Life ransacked, resources depleted and hope gone, Beaumont still remains in the lurch where Tying the Knot found him back in 2004. In These Times caught up with the 62-year-old rancher to talk about what has transpired since the film’s completion.
While gay marriage continues as a hot button issue, your story is also interesting in light of the buzz surrounding the movie Brokeback Mountain. What do you think about the national conversation this film has spurred?
I have not seen Brokeback Mountain. I probably won’t ‘til it comes out on DVD. But I feel akin to it.
As to marriage, they should take marriage and put it back in a church where it was to start with and separate the state from it. If you’ve been with somebody for all them years, it doesn’t matter whether you’re both male, both female, or male and female. If you’re together, common law marriage, or whatever you want to call it, should work.
Do you think gay marriage will be legalized soon?
I think someday. It’s just like the segregation thing was. It’s gonna hit the straws. It’s got to be done to have everything equal for everybody–equal rights. The Constitution provides it. It’s just getting the darn people who are dragging their feet out of the way. If we hadn’t had this president, it probably already would’ve been done. But the worst enemies that we have are the ones that’s in the closet. And the ones that believe all of a sudden they get religion and they ain’t gay no more. Heck, if you’re born that way, you’re born that way. Ain’t no changing it. You can get religion all you want to–the good Lord made you and he ain’t gonna change you.
You have been affected by your inability to lawfully wed Earl …
I think the term is “screwed.” I lost the estate. It was an 80-acre ranch. It had four houses on it. And of course I had cattle, horses and all that. It cost me a lot of money that I couldn’t afford. The attorney told me that he’d take the case for $5,000, and when I got through I was paying about $33,000 and he still wants another $8,000. And I got nothing.
And I’m still fighting them over my property here, in Cromwell, where I live. Now the estate wants me to sell part of it to pay $13,000-something for taxes and $5,000-something for the lawyer–their lawyer.
Although your union with Earl was never recognized by law, you considered yourself married. Did you have a service?
It was private between us. That was in July of ‘77. We had gotten together on January 15, so it was six months to the day because it was July 15. We met on a pier out on the Arkansas River. I was sitting there watching the water and the fish go by and he come up behind me and started talking. We got to talking and we talked ‘til 2:30 or so in the morning. And then I went home and he went home. Next night, we met at my house.
Did your family and friends know you were gay?
I came out to everybody when I come back from Vietnam in 1969. You mature a lot when you don’t know if you’ll wake up the next day and live. One day at a time, and you live it to its best. You learn a lot of things about yourself that you didn’t know before. ‘Course I knew it. I’ve known it all along, I just didn’t know what it was. And so I came out then. I’m sure Earl knew it before he was married, knew it when he was growing up. The thing was, you grew up, got married and had kids.
You and Earl raised three sons from your previous marriage. Did your family ever face discrimination in Bristow (population 4,300)?
There wasn’t nothing like that against us. We got along good. Most of the upper crust of town Earl knew well. They didn’t care and we didn’t push it on them. Most of them had known Earl most of his life. He was born in Bristow. He’d went to school with them, college with some of them. We never had any problems.
You had custody of your three sons when you met Earl. What did they think of Earl?
They liked him. And Earl thought the world of them. He always said they were his boys–all five of ‘em. The three of mine and the two that we kind of adopted along the way. They treated him like a father and he treated ‘em like they were his sons, at company Christmas parties and all that stuff. Carried ‘em on his insurance–he was a comptroller for Black & Decker–just like any parent would do.
What did your family think of your relationship?
My folks never said a word against it and Earl’s didn’t either. As far as Earl’s parents were concerned, the kids were their grandkids, the only ones they ever had. His mother was the typical grandmother. Spoiling kids. They’d come home from school, and they’d go stop over at her house, which was between ours and the bus stop, and she would give them a snack and then they’d come on home and they wouldn’t eat no supper. So we told ‘em, “You can’t stop over there.” And what’d she do? Stands in the yard as they come by and gives them a snack and a Kool-Aid in a cup, and let them go on. That away, they didn’t stop. Typical grandma.
There’s a scene in Tying the Knot where your son Kennegth gets choked up talking about Earl. How has his death affected your sons?
Well, they were a little lost for a while. It just takes time to get over it, for them as well as for me. It’s like my mother said–I asked her, ‘cause she lost my dad, “Does it ever get better?” and she said, “Well, I don’t know if the pain ever gets better. You just learn to live with it, which makes it a little easier.”
Tell me about when Earl’s cousins took you to court.
The judge in the Oklahoma district court had the legal right to rule either way he wanted to, and he didn’t do it. He didn’t have the balls to do it, as my attorney said. He could have ruled the will was legal. It was notarized–and nobody disputed the signature. They knew it was Earl’s. He said it only had one signature besides Earl’s and that was the notary public’s. And he said it needed another signature.
Was this an excuse for him to end the case, to dismiss it?
Just to send it over. He knew it was causing a feud, and he thought that when it got to the appeals court they’d rule in my favor, but they didn’t. The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t hear the case. That’s pretty much it. There’s nothing I can do after that. That was the end of the road for me.
How have you been able to support yourself financially?
Other than ranching, I haven’t worked since me and Earl was together. He didn’t want me to. All I done was run the ranch and raise cattle, stuff like that. I’m having a little trouble because they took all my money. It was in the account, it was in his name, so they took it. I had to file bankruptcy. I didn’t have much choice, ‘cause I just couldn’t afford the bills and they took all my money. And I had to sell everything, so I had to file bankruptcy. It was final in September. The insurance and the 401K, I was the beneficiary on that, so it didn’t go into the estate and they couldn’t touch it. They tried, but that’s what I bought this place with, with the money from the 401K. I bought this house, this ranch, which is a house on 350 acres. Between that and the lawyers, it pretty much wiped it out. It cost me a lot of money that I couldn’t afford.
Have you received any financial help from anyone who’s seen Tying the Knot?
No. Just a few little donations here and there. Not that much. I hadn’t asked for anything. I could use it, sure, ‘cause I’m hurting bad. Living month-to-month, very tightly. And I still got a house I’m trying to remodel.
It’s hard when you got an 18-year-old mind and a 60-year-old body. I always tell them I’m older than pepper and about the age of salt. My birth certificate says I’m 62. Some days I feel it, some days I don’t. I figured if I’m not listed in any obituaries in the morning paper, I’m doing fine. Got another day.
Even so, you’ve been through some dire straits for the past 5-and-a-half years.
A nightmare and a living hell. I hope I wake up.
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Annie Anderson is an intern at In These Times and a producer at WGN Radio in Chicago.