If there’s one thing we can all agree on, politics aside, it’s that love transcends all. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, msnbc.com’s “Love is Love” series will profile a variety of couples and their stories in the week leading up to February 14 to show that “love is love,” no matter your race, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity.
Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin have been together for almost half a century. After the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, Lennie and Pearl were finally able to legally marry in the state of Maine – after being together more than 45 years. However, in their home state of North Carolina, same-sex marriage was still not recognized, so they fought to bring marriage equality to their home state. Same-sex marriage finally became legal in North Carolina in October 2014, after a judge found the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Here, Lennie and Pearl share their incredible story.
Names: Ellen W. Gerber (Lennie) and Pearl Berlin
Been together for: 48 years
How did you meet? A student (older, graduate) of Pearl’s introduced us to each other, thinking only that we would like to know each other professionally.
How did your friends and family react to your relationship in the beginning, and now? Have they been accepting?
Everybody behaved as if they accepted us, although no discussions were held. When Lennie’s parents were told, explicitly, her mother said “we will never condone this.” However, they did come around. The rest of Lennie’s family (sister, nieces and their husbands and children) all were extremely accepting from the beginning.
Straight friends, colleagues and political allies always seemed accepting. When the fight over Amendment One took place, it enabled them to explicitly express their acceptance to us. That was very special.
What do you say to people who might not understand your relationship? What do you wish people knew?
People seem to understand our relationship with no difficulty at all. They seem to know what we want them to know, which is that we are a loving couple, living a normal, happy life, just as we hope they are.
What’s something you’ve learned from each other and from your relationship?
Pearl: I learned what love means and what it is like to love and be loved.
Lennie: Ditto. Also, I’ve learned how wonderful it is to share our lives, from the most ordinary activities of daily living, through the stresses of decision-making and problem-solving, and the pleasures of sharing wonderful experiences.
What’s something about your partner you find intriguing or surprising?
After 48 years, it is hard to identify something that is “intriguing or surprising” – I just take Lennie “as she is!” Ditto. At our ages, we just need to be able to stay the course.
Have you ever experienced negative reactions when out in public as a couple? What happened? How did/do you respond in those situations?
In general, no. But, in our travel years, we had several experiences where hotels, motels and ships refused to honor our reservations for double or queen-size beds, insisting that there were no such accommodations available. After several such experiences, Lennie took to hiding Pearl when she went in to the desk to sign in. That worked. From about 2008, we had no such problems, including on three rivers cruises that we took in Europe.
Do you feel like public attitudes toward LGBT couples have shifted in the past two years as more states have welcomed same-sex marriage?
ABSOLUTELY! The change has been amazing.
And just for fun: What’s your ideal way to spend Valentine’s Day?
Being together and having our dinner at a favorite restaurant. Or, getting an invitation (as we have gotten this year) to have dinner with much loved friends at their home.
Read more profiles in the Love is Love series here.