Equal, at last

By PHILIP EIL  |  May 14, 2013


WHO Josephine O'Connell, 72 and Maryellen Butke, 52

WHERE Providence

HOW For 25 years, Josephine was a nun. Then she met Maryellen, a social worker volunteering at the Chapel of St. Francis, where Josephine worked on a food program. "So Maryellen started coming and we started hanging out together," she says. "After a little while I thought, 'Twenty-five years, that's good! I did a good job! I did good work.' "She laughs and pantomimes wiping her hands, as if finishing a task, as she tells the story.

THEIR SON, THEIR STAR Maryellen (a former candidate for state senate), and Josephine were well-known fighters and fundraisers for same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, but not quite as famous as their sixth-grade son, Matthew.

There have been more than 105,000 views of the YouTube video of his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"If there is one thing you don't mess with in life, it's love," he says during the speech. "My parents — and all the other gay and lesbian people here — just want to be happy, just like you. All they want is to be treated fairly. Unlike most of you, they have to come here again, year after year, and explain over and over why their love is equal to yours. This year, you have the opportunity to change that. I say, choose love."

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