Veterans in FL Recall 51-Year Love Story
Bob Collier & Chuck Hunziker • Fort Lauderdale, FL
This story was originally published in August 2014. Bob and Chuck were plaintiffs in one of the legal cases that brought the freedom to marry to Florida.
Bob Collier and Chuck Hunziker have spent more of their lives together than apart: For more than five decades - 51 years - they have been building their lives, and in that time, they have seen so much change for the better in the ways that gay and lesbian people are treated in the United States.
Their lives have spanned so much of our nation's history - and as we stand on the brink of a new chapter, one where same-sex couples are free to marry in any state, Bob and Chuck reflected on their time with each other and shared their hopes for the future in Florida, where they have lived since 1997.
In their youth, Bob and Chuck both served in the United States Military, with Chuck serving in the Navy during the Korean War and Bob serving as a doctor in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
It was 1952, and Chuck was training hard as a dancer in New York City, hopeful that he could land a gig on Broadway. But when the Korean War broke out, he decided to enlist in the Naval Reserves, and he served for two years in Korea.
"I told myself that if I didn't make it on Broadway, I was going to join the Navy," Chuck said. "Looking back, I think my decision was somewhat influenced by those memories of World War II and of those who never got to come home. I felt like this was my obligation: I was young, I was healthy, I loved my country, and I had to do it."
Unfortunately, while in Korea at the end of 1953, Chuck came down with TB. After spending 18 months in Naval and VA Hospitals, he ultimately was medically retired from the Navy. He returned home to NJ where he went to college through the GI Bill.
It does make a difference being married. We don't want anything special. We just want equal rights - equality and fairness.
"At 25 years old, I was just starting to come out," he explained, adding, "I didn't realize the best was yet to come."
The best, it turned out, began in 1963, when Chuck met Bob, who had recently returned from two years of service in the Vietnam War as a doctor with the US Army. Bob had served as a Captain in the US Army Medical Corps, serving with the 82nd Airborne unit and later with the 1st Special Forces in Okinawa.
When they met in '63, it was on a beach not far from New York City.
"I met Bob sitting alone on a towel at the beach. I went over to him and asked him if he would like to join me on my beach blanket. We had a delightful afternoon getting to know one another and I asked him to join me for dinner at a romantic garden restaurant in Greenwich Village," Chuck remembered. "I knew right away that Bob was the one."
Their romantic dinner in Manhattan kick-started their love, and just a few weeks later, Bob moved in with Chuck.
"From that moment on, we both felt that we were meant for each other," Chuck said.
That feeling has never vanished since that first date. They moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1997. Now, Bob is 79 and Chuck is 82, and they live very happily and actively in a nice friendly community in Fort Lauderdale.
"We have a very happy life in Florida," Bob said. "We couldn't think of another place we'd rather be." Over the years, they built up a community of friends and loved ones, and there's no doubt about it: Florida is their home.
We are proud to have stuck by each other for so long. And now it's time for our home state of Florida to respect that commitment.
But because of laws in Florida that ban same-sex couples from marrying, Bob and Chuck's 51 years together are not recognized in the Sunshine State. So last summer, soon after their 50th anniversary, they returned to New York City to get legally married.
"It does make a difference being married," Chuck said, calling it a "nice feeling" to have the respect they deserve after five decades together.
However, they know that it's not just a “nice feeling” - there are basic protections and legal rights that all other married couples receive in Florida. That’s why they’re standing up as plaintiffs in a marriage case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and SAVE, Grimsley and Albu v. Scott, fighting for the freedom to marry and respect for marriages legally performed in other states.
"We don't want anything special," Bob said. "We just want equal rights - equality and fairness.”
Each day, veterans like Chuck and Bob are helping to make the case that in Florida, it's freedom that unites us - and that this freedom needs to be extended to everyone. No one in Florida should be told it's illegal to marry the person they love - especially after having served their country and continue to contribute to their community. Chuck, by the way, is a Disabled Veteran since serving in the Korean War.
It's time for couples like Bob and Chuck to be afforded the same basic freedom that all other Florida families are afforded: the freedom to marry.
Bob and Chuck are dedicated to continually speak out about why marriage recognition matters to them: They say that much of their drive to provoke change comes from leaving behind a better world for LGBT youth everywhere.
"We especially want the younger generation to know that they too can have a beautiful life together," Chuck said. "We want them to know that even when things can be dark or bleak, it will definitely get better. Life can change. Bob and I are blessed to have a beautiful life together. We are proud to have stuck by each other for so long. And now it's time for our home state of Florida to respect that commitment."