Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 13, an Auspicious Day

August, 13, 1987 – John David Coverston is born.

This is the Feast Day of the Nativity of the Eldest Nephew, John David Coverston, who is a ripe old 27 years of age today. 

He was named for his cousin, John David Coverston, who died in 1980, his father, David Ansel Coverston, and his great uncle, David Yost Coverston who died in 1990. John was born in Gainesville, FL, spent most of his school years in Winter Park. He now resides in San Francisco with his husband, Ryan.

His uncles love him very much and hope he had a wonderful day.

Hurricane Charley Destroys Coverleigh - Aug. 13, 2004

In early August, 2004, a small category 1 hurricane lingered off the Florida Keys. A rare early season storm, Charley was initially forecast to come up the west coast of Florida, perhaps grazing Tampa Bay enroute to the Big Bend. On the morning of Friday, August 13 (a Friday the 13th) in the space of less than an hour, Hurricane Charley exploded in strength climbing two categories to 145 mph sustained winds and changed directions heading inland at Punta Gorda. It would cut a swath of destruction across Florida before exiting between Daytona and Jacksonville later that night.

Coverleigh, our home (the name a result of combining Coverston and Moberleigh, the original spelling of Mobley), lay in that path. A 120 year old oak tree covered our entire lot and shaded our home. We had brought in a tree surgeon earlier in the year who pronounced it healthy. But, the oak was not up to the category five microbursts that swirled around the core of Charley as it passed overhead. The first of four trunks came down into my office piercing the roof. The second and third trunks fell through the middle of the house slicing it in two and piercing the roof of the neighbor’s house behind us. The hollowed out rotten heart of the tree was now exposed.

Breathlessly watching all this on CNN from a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in College Park, MD, where I was visiting a friend, I immediately called Andy to get a damage report. It became clear that I needed to get home as quickly as possible. This was easier said than done given that Tampa and Jacksonville airports had closed and Orlando International had sustained fairly major damage from the storm. I got the last seat available on the last flight into West Palm Beach the following day, rented a car and headed home.

By the time I got to the OUC power plant about 25 miles outside the city, the street lights were out. Had I not known my house lay about midway around Lake Underhill, the large lake at the foot of our street, I could not have found it that night. About half of the large oaks in our neighborhood had been toppled. The debris was almost impassible. I finally found our home when the lights of a FOX news camera  illuminated Andy as he walked out of the debris of what remained of our home.

Charley would prove to be only the first of three hurricanes to strike Orlando that year in a record season which produced 27 named storms. The last of them, Iota, utilizing Greek letters because the designated names had been exhausted, lingered in the Atlantic that December as the year 2004 ended and 2005 began.

Thus began an extended rebuilding project that lasted nearly four years. We hired two contractors along the way and had both leave before the project was completed. The first left with the roof off the house. The second left us to deal with all the inspections to get the house approved for occupancy. We ended up having to take out the license for completing the reconstruction ourselves. I will never forget the night our first contractor, a devout Mormon, came to tell us he was deserting us mid-project. As he pulled out of our driveway that night, I spotted a bumper sticker on the oversized pickup truck: “Scouting Teaches Values.”

My saintly Mother, St. Marge, was a source of inspiration to me in this process. My Mom had survived several horrific killer storms in her native Miami in the 1920s and 30s including one which took five of her friends when the train was washed from its tracks on the Overseas Highway. She would often say to her very distressed son, “It’s going to be OK, son. Trust me. I know.” And she did.

We lived in two different rental locations during reconstruction including one across the street from our home. Because our water supply was still connected I was able to replant our lush jungle yard which had also been trashed by debris removal.  I nourished my recovering yard as the workers slowly completed their reconstruction. It was the way I worked out my grief. 

Our first day back in our home was Thanksgiving of 2007, the power having been turned back on that very day for the first time in over three years. The last day of classes that term was also the day we were required to move out of our rented house across the street from our rebuilt home. It was frantic but we were finally home.

New Coverleigh had been born.

Getting Hitched on the Steps of SCOTUS - Aug. 13, 2010

When the District of Columbia removed the discriminatory restrictions on marriage against same sex couples, I immediately said to my life partner of then 36 years, “Why don’t we go to DC and get married?”

I was surprised when he said yes. Both of us had thought long and hard about the whole notion of marriage and the baggage it carried from its historical practices. There was a time when both of us would have said that this outdated institution was so compromised by any number of historical pathologies that it was beyond redemption. Maybe domestic partners would be a preferable status.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Supreme Court. A lesbian couple in Miami had boarded a cruise ship with their two children. One of the domestically partnered women had a stroke and was rushed to Miami Jackson Hospital. As the partner and their children sat in the waiting room asking for updates and permission to visit the dying partner and parent, the families of straight married couples swarmed in and out, no restrictions. The nurse at the emergency room desk rejected the legal documents produced by the distraught partner to procure their visitation saying “Florida doesn’t believe in gay marriage. We will not honor those documents.”

By the time the sister of the stricken woman arrived and gave permission to the partner and children, the woman had lapsed into a coma and never emerged. She died that night alone.

That single event had changed my mind about this subject. And I think it must have changed Andy’s mind as well since he said yes, let’s go get married. And so we asked Willard Schultz, the independent Catholic bishop who had blessed our union in the chapel of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge some eight years earlier if he would come complete the marriage rite. He eagerly agreed.

The first duty was to file the necessary papers in the District to register Bishop Schultz as a representative of an established religious body. Then came the planning. We needed to apply for the license, wait 24 hours, return to pick it up, complete the marriage, execute the license and then file it at the Clerk of the Court’s office. That meant the better part of a week in DC.

We chose the date August 13 very intentionally. It had been a very dark date in our lives with the loss of our home to Charley. I had spent that dark evening in unparalleled agony watching on television  from DC as the storm destroyed my home. But even that kind of suffering and despair can be redeemed. 

And so we rented hotel rooms for ourselves and our friends and the Bishop in a nice hotel in Foggy Bottom by the GW Campus. We sent out a handful of invitations. And we were ready.

Or so we thought. DC was having an ungodly heat wave the day we arrived. It was 103 degrees at the National Airport when we arrived. The lowest high for the week would be in the low 90s. So much for the taffeta. 

The second day in DC we went to the clerk’s office to get our license. We provided the necessary identification and paid our fee. We were set.

But where would we go? The National Park Service required permits for weddings on any of its properties. That included the steps of the Supreme Court building. But I had my heart set on that location. Not only am I lawyer but the SCOTUS represents the potential for the occasional victory of justice over the power-driven realities of law in this country. The inscription in the pediment over this Greek revival structure reads “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.”

We were there to claim our share.

And so the vows were spoken before our bishop in our hotel room. The entire rite was completed there up to the pronouncement of the marriage. At that point, we walked up the street to the Metro, got off at the Capitol Hill stop, walked past the Library of Congress on the east side of the US Capitol and stopped in front of the Court. Under the wary eyes of capital guards and National Park Service rangers, our officiant simply said, “By the power vested in me by the District of Columbia I pronounce you legally married.” And it was done.

No doubt, the traditional marriage kiss took some of the nearby tourists by surprise. But there was no time to worry about that. We hurried off to the clerk’s office to file the executed license.

The clerk asked where the address actually was. “That would be the steps of the US Supreme Court,” I replied. She got a big grin on her face. “I like that! Nice job, guys!” From behind us, the happy sounds of a same sex wedding party emerged from the make-shift chapel in the clerk’s office, all the members of the party dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts and leis. The straight couple waiting their turn with the justice of the peace congratulated the two women as they exited. It was a very happy day.

After a wonderful lunch in a restaurant atop the lobby of Union Station, we spent the afternoon at a couple of the Smithsonian museums Andy had not seen. When people ask where we spent our honeymoon, I tell them “The Museum of Natural History.”

This year, Andy and I celebrated our 40th year as partners and our fourth year as a legally married couple. Already three state courts in Florida have ruled that our marriage is legal in the Sunshine State even as the state constitutional amendment passed several years ago still prohibits its legal recognition by the state government while those decisions face appeal.

But that day is coming, probably sooner than anyone thinks.  This is a change whose time has come. Maybe the decision will be handed down on August 13, 2015. That would be appropriate, I think. It is, after all, a very auspicious day.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., M.Div. Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
Osceola Campus, University of Central Florida, Kissimmee

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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