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Laws aside, couple stays together

March 28, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Three months separate Marty Gallagher and Bill Striler, but Maryland's "one man, one woman" marriage law doesn't.

Both men are 66 years old. Gallagher was born on Aug. 16 and Striler on May 9.

They've been partners in life for 32 years.

They met in the Washington, D.C., chapter of Dignity/Washington, an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics.

That's history now. Gallagher - who was a Jesuit Catholic priest for 22 years - holds out no hope of acceptance in the church.

"I've given up," he said. "Galileo waited 400 years."

Gallagher became a physician specializing in internal medicine. Striler is a registered nurse.

In 1990, a year after they moved to Hagerstown, Gallagher and Striler opened the Community Free Clinic on West Franklin Street in Hagerstown.

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Gallagher joined Antietam Family Practice and worked there until about two years ago, when he had a minor stroke. He's better now and expects to take a part-time job as a physician for Wells House, a halfway house for men with addictions.

Striler is working as a nurse at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Martinsburg, W.Va.

Gallagher and Striler were joined in a civil union in Vermont in April 2002.

They live as a couple, but Maryland's Family Law says, "Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this state." Maryland does not recognize their union.

Striler said he wants the legal rights that other spouses have.

The men said Washington County is "very accepting" of gay people. Still, while there is a substantial gay population here, "a lot of them don't want to be known," Striler said.

Asked if Washington Countians would accept gay marriage or civil unions if they became legal, Gallagher said, "For me, they would probably accept it in the sense that you'd wake up the next morning and nothing would really change ...

"In 10 years, I think people will say, 'What was all the fuss about?'"

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