Death Parts Gay Wisconsin Couple of 49 Years

Wisconsin_couple_1Richard Taylor and Ray Vahey, who were together for 49 years but did not speak openly about their relationship until anti-gay forces in their home state of Wisconsin compelled them to leave their “silent generation” behind and come forward, have been parted by the death of Taylor last Friday. He was 81.

Spurred by the proposed Wisconsin amendment to ban gay marriage, Taylor and Vahey decided to begin speaking publicly about their relationship last June. Vahey described the difficulties of having a relationship in the closeted 1950’s as “an exaggerated version of don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Last December, I posted about the couple after they made an appearance at a state hearing against the proposed Wisconsin amendment. At that time, Vahey said, “Richard and I met and fell in love in 1956. For 49 years, we have yearned for a marriage recognized in America. Yet until this year, we had never come out in a public way. We decided this cause is not only worth it to us but to millions of others…”

He added, “Euphemisms like ‘partnership’ or ‘union’ set us apart from society,” Vahey said at the Legislative hearing last fall. “Substitute terms that categorize and separate us become our yellow Star of David badges. . . . Here at home, African-Americans learned long ago that ‘separate but equal’ is not equal.”

Taylor was a naval veteran who served on a tanker in the North Pacific, Mediterranean, and South Pacific during World War II, said Vahey: “Richard voluntarily put himself into harm’s way to protect his country and the rights of all Americans of that day, and all of the generations that have followed. Now there is an attempt to separate Richard from society and take away his right to equality under the law.”

Vahey and Taylor had planned a wedding anniversary for September 16, which would have been the couple’s 50th anniversary. Now, the day will hold a special memorial event for Taylor, which will also serve as a fundraiser to fight the proposed anti-gay amendment.

Talk about serving one’s country in so many ways! Every Congressional member who is against same-sex marriage or gays in the military should know the story of Vahey and Taylor, model citizens and everyman American heroes.

Our thanks go out to them, and our condolences go out to Ray Vahey on the loss of his partner.

A Life of Love was Made Public in the End [milwaukee journal sentinel]


  1. says

    Living in a rural area in the western front range of the northern Rockies, I’ve haven’t experienced any difficulty as an out gay man-but I have answered the “gay couple staying power” question among my neighbors and friends. Sadly they’ve bought Focus on the Family’s urban myth that gay relationships don’t last…

    A near fifty year relationship is the stuff of Paul Harvey recognition and stories like those of Richard and Ray need to be repeated if we will ever prevail in this battle. How can anyone question 50 years?

  2. Cory says

    Such a shame they never got to their 50th anniversary, my heart goes out to them and their loved ones. I’m certain radical conservatives won’t even bat an eye over this matter. I’m sending this to everyone I know…

  3. David Danaher says

    I heard them speak at the hearings that Andy mentions. They were incredible. Despite Richard’s illness, they devoted much of their time and energy to fighting the anti-gay amendment that we in Wisconsin now face on the November ballot.

    Please remember their fighting spirit and support Fair Wisconsin (, the campaign against the amendment! We will beat this amendment but not without a whole of help from people all over.

  4. Leland says

    “Substitute terms that categorize and separate us become our yellow Star of David badges. . . . Here at home, African-Americans learned long ago that ‘separate but equal’ is not equal.” Brilliant! Eloquence all the more powerful because it is so focused and heartfelt. Thank you, Andy, for continuing their story.

  5. JOE says

    Says Taylor died NOT Vahey….your link is worded wrong.

    Leland, calm down…if he doesn’t want to be the ‘poster boy’, let it go. He ‘came out’ and now he gets smalled even more than before….ridiculous.

  6. Zeke says

    God bless these courageous men.

    Joe, I don’t agree with sending Bass this story to point out that he should be a “poster boy” for gays, but I DO believe he should be sent this story to be reminded of the “crazy activists” that he derides but who have been responsible for creating a world where he can come out, with little backlash, as a gay celebrity.

    I found his “crazy activist” comment to be thoughtless, selfish, insensitive, ignorant and extremely rude.

    Lance should thank God every day for the courage, determination and sacrifice of crazy activists like Richard Taylor and Ray Vahey and Harvey Milk and Wanda Alston and the drag queens at Stonewall and all the others, known and unknown who made his happy, safe, openly gay life possible today.

  7. Kurt Dyer says

    Thanks for running this story… Richard and Ray have recently become a big part of my life. Richard was an amazing guy! A few days before he died my partner and I visited him in the hospital and despite having an incredibly hard time talking he was able to joke and laugh and give us advice on winning in Wisconsin. Richard told us, “Don’t ever get sick!” He reminded us to “agitate, agitate, agitate” as was his motto in life. I’ll greatly miss Richard…

  8. says


    Totally amazing that you posted this. It’s so easy, in my urban gay world of dates and bars and net chats, to forget that there are stories like this out there.

    I nearly cried while reading it. Such an amazing story. I’d loved to have heard what it was like to be in love through all those years. I’m always enthused to hear stories from older gays about how it was even just back in the ’70s. I can’t imagine the wealth of stories those two could share from the ’40s on.

    Thanks again Andy.

  9. Karim says

    A shame that a couple who has been together for almost 50 years could not have their marriage recognized, yet two perfect opposite-sex strangers who have a few drinks can get hitched at a Vegas chapel and have it legalized. Noticing a trend, Ms. Spears?

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