Maryline White, left, is pictured with her partner Louise. - Photo courtesy of Maryline White

'Gay by birth, proud by choice'

Maryline White had recently divorced her husband and decided to venture from her Midtown apartment in New York City to a friend's house party in Connecticut.

She curled her hair and put on her best blouse and skirt because a woman wearing pants to a party was unacceptable in 1957.

As she walked into her friend's apartment, she noticed a 5-foot-2-inch woman with short blond hair stand up and lock eyes with her immediately. She was the only one who stood in the room, let alone acknowledged White's presence.

White had had these feelings before, at summer camp when she was 12 years old.

But it was 1957, and being gay was unacceptable.

White, who now lives in Ashland, was born in 1921 in Dayton, Ohio, where she lived most of her childhood. She was the oldest of three girls, and certainly the most different.

When she attended summer camp, she met a camp counselor who gave her feelings that at first she did not understand.

"I was mad about her," White said. "She knew what was happening to me and helped me through the hump. But she didn't want me to go too far and get into an emotional thing with her."

White's camp counselor wasn't the only one who recognized her different feelings.

"My mother sensed who I was and what I was up to," White said. "She was puzzled as to why I was the only one out there who was the way I was."

But White wasn't the only one. She was just one of many who had to hide their homosexuality for fear of being ostracized by 1930s culture.

Soon after White locked eyes with Louise at that Connecticut apartment, the two started dating and traveling from Connecticut to New York City to visit each other. The pair were inseparable as they enjoyed weekly dinners and long walks with Louise's two Scottish terriers.

A couple of months passed before the two became partners, and soon they moved into a small apartment at 46th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City's Upper East Side.

But even living together, the two had to hide their relationship.

After all, it was 1958, and being gay was unacceptable.

"We never came out," White said. "We had stories put together like we were either sisters, cousins or in-laws who had left our husbands to travel together."

The two remained secret partners for 11 years, living in Maine, San Diego and Carmel, Calif.

They told the same story wherever they went, keeping their intimate relationship from the world.

Little did the couple know, though, they would reach some sort of liberation with the domino effect of the 1969 Stonewall riots in lower Manhattan.

The riots were a series of violent demonstrations from the gay community in opposition to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which was the largest gay establishment in the United States at the time.

By 1970, the riots' effect spread across the rest of the United States and the world.

Even with the gay community out in the open, though, the pair kept their secret.

"We never thought of the incident as giving us confidence to come out loud," White said. "So we continued our love and what we were doing."

The two began to travel the United States. White became an award-winning journalist, winning a reporting award from The Associated Press, and Louise continued with her art.

But in 1999, Louise, who was in her late 80s, was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer.

The two not only had to deal with the difficult news of Louise's terminal illness, but White also discovered that because she wasn't a blood or legal relative, she couldn't be in the room during Louise's final hours.

After all, it was 1999, and being gay was unacceptable.

White sat next to her beloved partner and admired Louise's strength after she was told the gut-wrenching news.

"Now the pain is going to get really bad," the doctor said to Louise. "I want you to come back to this hospital for the last two weeks so we can ease you of that terrible pain you're going to have."

Louise sat up and pointed her finger in the doctor's face.

"Now you listen to me," she said. "You will never get me back here in the hospital because you and the staff will only allow my blood relatives here in the room with me. I don't want them. I want my partner here."

Louise died four weeks later at home with White by her side, leaving behind the pain medication and the discrimination at that hospital in Portland, Maine.

Now it's 2013, and being gay is no longer unacceptable. White has a poster in her Mountain Meadows apartment that reads, "Gay by birth, proud by choice."

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act — which prevented couples like White and her partner from collecting federal benefits — is unconstitutional.

And White, 92, was able to celebrate the court's decision with her fellow gay community in Ashland's Plaza on Wednesday afternoon.

"The ruling means any person who loves another person can get married and receive the federal benefits they deserve," White said. "The benefits I never received."

Reach Snowden intern Amanda Barker at 541-776-4368.

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