"I think I just said to Leonard, 'I want a wedding' and he said 'OK,' even though it didn't much matter to him."
The power of a legal bond became clearer to Lyles last year when Kamsler, 78, was admitted to the hospital because of some minor medical issues. Lyles found the legal ability to invoke the word "spouse" on all the forms so deeply empowering that it made him "militant" about marriage equality for the first time in his life.
Kamsler is "not my boyfriend, not my roommate, not my lover -- my spouse," said Lyles. To have hospital staff simply treat that as nothing out of the ordinary meant the world to him. It also heartened him when his two brothers each called to tell him how much they love Leonard, their "brother-in-law."
"He was defined," Lyles said. "Language has power, and I thought for the first time, how dare you deny that to me, or to anyone?"
Lyles' relief over his treatment at the hospital is grounded in a painful reality for gay baby boomers. The specter of "big nurse" as writer Craig Seligman calls it, barring access to an ailing loved one, looms large for a greying population who watched their friends, colleagues and lovers decimated by the AIDS epidemic. With no legally recognized status, people were forced to watch helplessly as the care of a partner was turned over to family members and city agencies who did not or could not recognize their bond.
"In my younger, more radical days, I felt that marriage was an oppressive, heterosexual institution, and no decent gay person would want to get married," said Seligman's husband, Silvano Nova, an accessories designer.
The pair met as colleagues while working at Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, and have been together for nearly 30 years. They formalized the union in Connecticut on their 25th anniversary in a ceremony officiated by Seligman's cousin, a justice of the peace.
"We were certainly ambivalent, since we felt that we had always been married in the very best sense of the word," said Nova. The two had been legally recognized as domestic partners in New York since 1994.
"The question of legal protection was important to us," said Nova, and added that there was another factor at play. "It was fun to think of actually being able to be married legally and saying so. We have heterosexual friends who have gotten married after many years together for the same reasons."
Investigative reporter and author Steve Silberman said he hopes that as "same-sex" marriage becomes plain old "marriage," people who may have been resistant to the idea will realize that there's no fundamental difference.
"We (baby boomers) were all raised with the same core traditional values, and most of us fundamentally want a stable, long-term relationship. We were raised on the idea of 'happily ever after,'" he said. "This is a public good -- and how can you wage a war against happy?"
E.J. Graff, journalist and author of "What Is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution," believes in the power of visibility to normalize same-sex marriage to the general public.
"Twenty years ago, people thought of us as these crazy party animals, because (the gay Pride parade) was the only time of year that you saw us. Now we're visible as pretty ordinary, lawn-mowing, PTA kind of people. People would look at us and say that nothing has changed -- just that people are happier."
Happiness was only one of many emotions Dosik and Stevens felt when they took their long-delayed vows. As soon as the officiant opened her notebook to start the ceremony, Dosik burst into sobs. Stevens, who never cries, choked up, too.
"We, as a couple, were being recognized and validated by a state government," Dosik said. "I blubbered my way through everything that was being read, and managed to squeak out my vows and an 'I do.' We were pronounced 'married,' kissed and we were laughing and crying and breathing sighs of relief."