TOBIN: So, Kath.
TOBIN: Today we’re gonna feature a podcast that we both love, and it is filled with love stories.
KATHY: Yes! It’s from the women who make the podcast “Criminal,” another great show.
TOBIN: But this show is called “This is Love.”
KATHY: But they’re not, like, [PAUSE] gushy love stories, y’know? One of their stories is about this teenager who swims for hours in the dark to save a baby whale, or two snails with a kind of like … an arranged marriage?
TOBIN: Yes, there are lots of stories about animals. You love the animals.
KATHY: Yes. But they also have stories about people, too.
TOBIN: So, today, we’re featuring one of their stories about a couple who spent forty years together, and then took their relationship public — like, really public.
KATHY: Here’s host Phoebe Judge.
PHOEBE: I am gonna be going back and forth between both of you. But don't feel like you can't speak over each other, if one wants to.
DREW: I have a habit of doing that, I’m the first to admit. [CHUCKLES]
PHOEBE: So — [LAUGHS]
NINO: He will — he will talk, believe me, he'll be the talker. [LAUGH]
DREW: Don't encourage it, is what I'm trying to say, because I'll do it even more than usual.
[LILTING PIANO MUSIC IN]
NINO: My name is Nino Esposito. I am 81 years old, unfortunately.
DREW: Yeah, I'm Drew Bosee, I'm 71 years old.
PHOEBE: They met in 1970, when Nino was 33 and Drew was 23.
DREW: I went to one of the — one of the meeting places in Pittsburgh for gay people and, lo and behold, there was Nino.
NINO: He walked into the bar and he just spotted me I guess. He came up when we just started to talk and [INHALES] I stood up and gave him my — my barstool.
DREW: I always say chivalry was not dead. At least, not fifty years ago, it wasn't. And the rest really was history.
PHOEBE: In the — in the ‘70s, right — right before you met … what was it like to be a gay man in Pittsburgh?
NINO: Well, you didn't discuss it with anybody. You just, it was a clandestine, you know, lifestyle. You didn’t … you didn’t … You just went out — you didn't go out until 11 o'clock at night and you only went to places where gay people went, you know? And during the day it was a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of situation. You didn't admit to — to that. At least we didn't. And we've always maintained that it was not acceptable to a lot of people so why, you know, force it on them if they're not interested?
PHOEBE: Drew and Nino kept their relationship a secret from everyone. It just didn’t seem worth it to try and explain. Shortly after they met, Drew arrived home to find all of his belongings piled up on the front porch. His landlord had found out he was gay. So Drew moved in with Nino, and Nino’s mother and father. But Nino and Drew still didn’t tell anyone they were together.
NINO: His family didn't know, my family did not know.
DREW: Officially. And then we always assumed at least in my family's case … they weren't going to bring it up. We weren’t bringing it up. It was just a case of “You know it,” which, y’know, there is no point in discussing. And that's just the way it was for all those years.
[SOFT MELODY CONTINUES TO PLAY]
NINO: In those days, you couldn’t — really, you couldn't go to a … a straight bar, you know, because you felt — you felt like, you know, people [LAUGHS IRONICALLY] were looking at you. I mean you couldn't go to —
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
DREW: You couldn’t — you couldn’t go to a gay bar, you mean?
NINO: — you couldn't. No, I mean a straight bar. You couldn't go with your partner to any, you know … even in restaurants and things, people would certainly look askance at — at — at, you know, “Why are these two men together?”, you know, “This is so strange.” So used to … we tended to just avoid that whole situation. And so we just [PAUSE] decided we're just going to stay home. And that's it.
PHOEBE: They bought a house. Drew was a writer, Nino taught high school. And they did absolutely everything together.
NINO: We’ve decided that this was our home and — and we’re going to stay here and enjoy it, you know? I don't see why people are always looking for something somewhere else when they have a situation that they enjoy being in, you know?
PHOEBE: They were happy like this for 42 years. And then, as they aged, things got more complicated. They began to think seriously about what would happen if one of them got sick. Or died unexpectedly. How they could continue to take care of each other, no matter what? So in 2012, when they were 65 and 75 years old, they came up with an idea.
[PLAYFUL PIANO MUSIC FADES IN]
PHOEBE: How was it decided who would adopt who?
DREW: Well, we just figured logically since Nino was older — 10 years older than I — uh, that that would be the way to go. It was as simple as that.
PHOEBE: I’m Phoebe Judge, and “This is Love.”
PHOEBE: Would you just explain, or break down, what — because you weren't connected legally, what would that mean? Um, what would that mean financially if someone were to die, if someone were to get sick. What did that mean?
DREW: Right. Umm. We felt we were in a [PAUSE] real and true relationship unofficially but there was nothing legal …
NINO: Well, we always felt that we were existing in an illegal situation. I mean, this was not accepted at that time.
DREW: Yeah. I was just a stranger, effectively, legally.
NINO: And we thought by the adoption it would change that whole situation where he would legally be part of my — my family and that would solve the whole situation.
PHOEBE: Were you thinking, “Wait a second! Gay marriage — legalized gay marriage — seems very far off, if it's ever going to happen. And so this is what — this is, this is a way. This is a way that we can be legally bound to each other.”
DREW: Right. This was this was the only option and we weren't sure if it even would be an option that we thought we might possibly have.
[PAUSE FOR MUSIC]
ANDREW: I mean, they are like an old married couple together. I mean, they do everything together. They spend all their time together along with their dog. Yuri, they’re — they’re together all the time. Very loving relationship.
PHOEBE: This is Andrew Gross — he’s an attorney in Pittsburgh, and has known Nino and Drew for a long time. He’s a real estate and bankruptcy lawyer — so he wasn’t quite sure what to think when they came to him and asked if he’d help them with an “adult adoption.” He did some research, and said, “Okay. Let’s try.”
ANDREW: I was willing to help them out, and I thought it was a good idea.
PHOEBE: But, it — Did it sound odd or strange to you? Just the idea of it, on the surface, sounds a little strange.
ANDREW: I don’t think so. And I think the judge in the case knew exactly what we were doing. And he — he didn’t ask specifically. But, uh, I think that the judge knew what we were doing, and approved of what we were doing.
DREW: We had to get four letters of recommendation, for lack of a better word. And we got one from a priest friend of ours, two from personal friends, and one was from our doctor.
PHOEBE: They brought their petition, and their letters of recommendation, to what the state of Pennsylvania calls “Orphans Court.”
DREW: I remember the judge asking Nino if he knew what he was [LAUGHS] getting into or accepting, and —
NINO: He said, “Do you realize that you were going to be responsible for this person, you know, forever?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Are you willing to do that?” And I said, “Absolutely.” He said “Well, I see no reason not to grant this adoption.”
[ETHEREAL MUSIC PLAYS]
DREW: We still didn't tell our families. Uh, we did tell our gay friends about it, about that. But as far as our families were concerned we did not tell anybody at the — even then.
PHOEBE: And then two years later something unexpected happened.
[MONTAGE OF NEWS CLIPS]
NEWS CLIP 1: It is a historic day in Pennsylvania, as it becomes the 19th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
NEWS CLIP 2: Just hours ago, a federal judge made the ruling, which makes marriage between same-sex couples legal immediately.
NEWS CLIP 3: Judge John Jones peppered his ruling with phrases from wedding vows.
NEWS CLIP 4: He wrote, “In future generations, the label ‘same-sex’ will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by ‘marriage.’”
NEWS CLIP 5: Couples rushed to join in, heading to city hall to get their marriage certificates.
NEWS CLIP 6A: It’s very exciting —
NEWS CLIP 6B: Yes, yes!
NEWS CLIP 6A: And, and, and … [LAUGHS] You just can’t believe you’re part of something like this.
[NEWS CLIP MONTAGE ENDS]
NINO: We were shocked and we were even more shocked when — when the Supreme Court issued their, uh … [PAUSE] their idea for the whole country, y’know … And we thought it was a long time coming and it was well deserved at this point.
DREW: It made quite an impact. [INHALE] We kind of, the two of us, represent the — the years. We were maybe six or eight months when we met beyond, uh, Stonewall in New York which is considering [sic] the beginning of the gay crusade. But beyond that, we've gone through everything right up through 2015 when the Federal Supreme, the US Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage equality and, uh, we've been there to witness every — every step of the way. We kind of try — try to tell ourselves that, uh, it’s here to stay. At least for our lifetime.
PHOEBE: They got with their lawyer — Andrew Gross — to prepare to get married. But there was a problem. Legally, they were father and son. They’d have to vacate the adoption. In June of 2015, they went back to Orphan's Court in Allegheny County. The judge was Lawrence O’Toole — a judge who’d signed one of the state’s first same-sex marriage licenses. Here’s their attorney, Andrew Gross.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
ANDREW: I thought that it was just be [sic] a pro forma hearing, and that he would sign the order right there and then. My clients had actually brought the filing fee to apply for the marriage, uh … certificate when they came to the hearing.
PHOEBE: So they thought they’d get the adoption annulled and they'd already be downtown, so why not get married?
PHOEBE: And, um, uh — what happened?
[ANXIOUS MUSIC FADES IN]
ANDREW: The — the judge put us on the defensive from the first words that he spoke. The first thing that he said to me is, “What authority do I have to do this?” So I could tell right away that he wasn't inclined to — to grant our, uh, petition. He did not feel he had the authority to annul a situation like this. And there's something in —
NINO: I think that was just an excuse.
DREW: — well, there's something in the law that says the only way that a — a judge can annul an adoption [is] if there was fraud involved in the initial adoption in the first place.
PHOEBE: Judge O’Toole denied their request to vacate the adoption. He didn’t see any legal path by which he could. But he wasn’t unsympathetic. He wrote: "This Court welcomes direction from our appellate courts.”
ANDREW: They were devastated especially because he wrote “Denied” on the order. He scrawled it in huge letters: “Denied.” So they took it personally.
MELANIE: Quite honestly, if they expected to just have a decision from the bench and a stroke of a pen, they really don't know this particular judge very well.
[ANXIOUS MUSIC OUT]
TOBIN: Nancy will be back in a minute.
KATHY: We’re back with an episode of “This is Love.”
MELANIE: Under Pennsylvania law, the only grounds to vacate an adoption is fraud. And fraud, for instance, under Pennsylvania law would be, uh … let’s assume that, um, Mom, uh … wanted to have someone else adopt a baby and she forged — or had someone forge — the father's signature on a consent order. That would be fraud.
PHOEBE: This is Melanie Rothey, an attorney and Judge O’Toole’s law clerk.
MELANIE: He is very [PAUSE] deliberate. He is very thought-provo— y’know, he thinks about things. He and I had discussed it in advance and he wanted to hear the argument from the attorney. He wanted me to do some research, which I did, and he wanted to think about it. He was not gonna make a snap decision.
PHOEBE: Did you, had [sic] … debate this in your own home, with your wife? Did you talk about this? And did you fall into different sides, or did you both say, “No, this is right,” just as [INHALE] human beings, y’know, just as [PAUSE] another gay couple who are interested in, I — I, I assume the rights of everyone?
MELANIE: We did talk about it, yes. And I actually talked about it with my adult children. Uh, and … we all talked about it. And, they … One of my children is a lawyer — the other one’s in law school now — and we had, uh, lengthy discussions about it, but … And we went every different way but they came down to respect the decision that the law simply doesn’t provide for it. And it’s not going to be a trial-court-, a common-pleas-court-level judge to fix this. What he really wanted was to send this to an appellate court. That was his purpose. “Tell me that I can do this, and I will do it.”
PHOEBE: I wonder about that. Isn’t that hard, to say, “If it’s the law, it has to be 100% right. Would … It — it covers everything. That there’s no grey. We can only see black and white. Do you think that that has to hold? We can only see black and white. As Judge O’Toole said, “This is what the law says.” Or, um, do you think that — that we have to — we have to be able to bend a little bit, circumstantially?
MELANIE: I absolutely believe that the law has some grey areas. That being said, it’s up to the legislature to correct that grey area. Judges are not [LONG PAUSE] supposed to be making law. —
[SLOW, LIGHT MUSIC IN]
MELANIE: — They are supposed to be enforcing the law. And that's what Judge O'Toole did.
PHOEBE: Incidentally — when same sex marriage was recognized in Pennsylvania — Melanie and her partner of 24 years were married. Judge O’Toole performed the ceremony.
PHOEBE: Why didn't you just get married anyway?
NINO: Well, this is what our lawyer said, [LAUGHS] “Why don't you just do it and forget all this nonsense?”, you know? But we didn't feel that that was a legal, you know, way to do things. And we wanted to make sure that later on somebody couldn't come back and — and say, you know, “Wait a minute!” You know, “You're father and son! You can't get married, what — what’s all … ?” So we decided we were going to follow it through, the way we were supposed —
DREW: And we did found out, around that time, that we — we could — we could be subject to 10 years in jail for doing this.
PHOEBE: By now, they were 78 and 68 years old and had been together for 45 years. A newspaper reporter named Chris Potter wrote about the case. It was on the front page of the The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. From there, CNN and The Washington Post picked it up. Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey saw the story and wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking her to look into the case.
ANDREW: Nino and Drew were very private about their life story, and now their life story was spread all over [PAUSE] the newspapers and all over the local TV. Now, it was just an overwhelming experience.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
PHOEBE: Andrew Gross filed an appeal, asking the higher court to permit Nino and Drew to vacate the adoption. The ACLU got involved and filed an amicus brief. An amicus brief is a legal document that can be filed by an interested third party to supply additional information that the court might want to consider. The Superior Court did overrule the lower court decision, instructing Judge O’Toole to reverse the adoption.
[LIGHT PIANO MUSIC IN]
PHOEBE: In January of 2017, he signed the order. A few days later, Nino and Drew were officially married. They didn’t have a big wedding. They say they didn’t think it was necessary. But, a few days later, some family friends decided that they at least should go out for a nice dinner. And when they got there, there was champagne and wine and a gigantic wedding cake.
NINO: We saved the top of the cake, and we had it last weekend.
DREW: A couple weeks ago. It was just … something that we could never, never thank them for enough.
PHOEBE: What does marriage mean to you?
DREW: Well, I think it just legitimizes a relationship, as it does for all couples. And in our case a relationship that we had had for, like, 47 years by the time we finally got married. I mean, there, most people that — they never get to that point. And it just was a situation where we — we were so happy that it could be officially and legally recognized. And it sounds kind of trite to say that —
NINO: We didn’t have to hide any longer, that was the main issue. You know? We're always, always hiding it from our family, from our friends. And so it was just amazing that we didn't have to feel that way any the longer, you know? It was just — it was a big relief, really.
DREW: I got a call from my, uh, niece's husband. They had lost our address — and they were doing Christmas cards early — and they put our names into Google and of course all hell exploded. They — they saw. Every — uh, and so I got a call from —
NINO: Cat was out of the bag. [LAUGHS]
DREW: — Yeah, it wasn’t us doing it. But my niece called me, and, uh, and of course then she called my sister and her mother. And then one thing just went after the — snowballs after that.
NINO: And they sent us cards, they send us birthday cards, anniversary cards, everything, you know? It's just unbelievable how it has changed.
[PIANO MUSIC SWELLS]
PHOEBE: They have a beautiful home in the hills above Pittsburgh. It’s like being in an antique store. Every surface is covered: little bowls, shells, decorative plates, the walls are covered with paintings in ornate frames. Their prized possession is their gigantic Schnauzer, named Yuri — easily 100 pounds. It’s just like a bull in a china shop.
PHOEBE: You know, gay, straight — no matter what — fifty years is an awfully long time to be with anyone. Um … What is it? What is it, 50 years later, that [PAUSE] allows you two to still be together, and live together, and have a life?
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
DREW: Well, I think it's a case of where, we — again, as trite as it sounds, we just sort of felt we were going to always be together from the beginning which of course really means nothing. But it's one of those things where today it seems the slightest thing, people, we — couples, we use as an excuse — gay or straight — for not staying together. And while you can have — and we have had — some knock-down, drag-out fights about things over the years, um, once you cool down, you realize the bones of the relationship are so obviously there that, uh, any momentary flare-ups for whatever reason aren't going to — aren’t gonna … they might rock the boat, but they're not going to capsize it.
[SLOW, EMOTIVE PIANO MUSIC IN]
PHOEBE: Do you agree?
NINO: [LAUGHS] I can't add too much to that. But that’s — it's just, I don't know … From day one, I just felt this relationship was going to — going to be forever, you know? And there's never going to be anything that can come between us. And we haven't allowed that to happen, no matter what, you know? We just have decided that a long time ago and that's the way it's going to be.
[PIANO MUSIC SWELLS, PLAYS OUT]
KATHY: “This is Love” is produced by Lauren Spohrer, Nadia Wilson, and Phoebe Judge. Audio mixed by Rob Byers. Matilde Erfalino is their intern.
TOBIN: Their next season starts May 1st, and you can listen to all the episodes of the show at thisislovepodcast.com.