Army Sgt. Bob Claunch and Lt. Jack Reavley fell in love in 1951.

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Army Sgt. Bob Claunch and Lt. Jack Reavley fell in love in 1951. Still together today, they had no interest in wedding when same-sex unions were briefly legal. Now they think differently.
By Joanna Lin
8:13 PM PST, March 4, 2009
The year was 1951. The U.S. military had just declared homosexuality an "unacceptable risk" and dishonorably discharged about 2,000 men and women from the armed services.

It was the same year Army Sgt. Bob Claunch and his commanding officer, Lt. Jack Reavley, fell in love.

More than half a century later, they are still together.

For most of their lives, marriage was not an option for gays. But when same-sex marriage became legal in California last year, an estimated 18,000 couples tied the knot. Claunch and Reavley, longtime Los Angeles residents, were not among them.


FOR THE RECORD:

An earlier version of this article implied that federal marriage benefits are available to married same-sex couples. Same-sex couples are not eligible for federal benefits.


"I know that we’ve been together a long time," Claunch said, "but the idea of cementing this relationship seems unnecessary."

"What’s the point?" Reavley added

     

After all, Claunch, 83, and Reavley, 85, said they don’t know if they will live much longer.

But for them, that is exactly why marriage matters: As the couple enters their twilight years, what will happen to one when the other dies is a growing concern.

Friends have passed, families are distant. Though they are registered domestic partners in California, federal marriage benefits — including Social Security and survivor payments — are out of reach, even for same-sex couples with valid marriage licenses.

Still, Claunch and Reavley are reconsidering. If the opportunity to marry comes again, they said they probably would take advantage of it — and hope that federal marriage benefits would someday follow. .

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage approved by voters in November. The court’s ruling, expected within 90 days, could overturn the ban. But even if the ban was thrown out, federal benefits would still be unavailable to same-sex couples.

Claunch and Reavley are quiet about their feelings toward marriage. In recent months, as protests mounted against Proposition 8, they sensed that people were disappointed that they weren’t vocal marriage advocates.

To some degree, the couple said, they prefer to lay low because when they fell in love years ago, that was their only choice.

Reavley, who was drafted in World War II and remained in the Army Reserve, was called back to service during the Korean War. He became Claunch’s commanding officer at Armed Forces Radio in Munich, Germany.

It was love at first sight, Claunch said.

But being together was difficult. They couldn’t be seen alone together without raising eyebrows or risking the scrutiny of military police. Reavley had a wife and two young daughters. Both men felt weighed down with guilt.

Troops in the unit began to notice their relationship; rumors swirled. If discovered, they could have been court-martialed. After a year of hiding, they confronted their unit.

Reavley called a meeting. He had his secretary, a lesbian who had helped conceal the couple’s romance, pretend to phone headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany

"I said, if anybody has anything to say about Sgt. Claunch and Lt. Reavley’s association . . . now’s your chance," Reavley said.

No one said a word.

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