Sally Ride

Sally Ride. Source: NASA, circa 1984.

The news of Sally Ride passing was something that hit me harder than I expected and took me by surprise. It had been a while since I had heard about her.

As a NASA booster and a fan of the space shuttle program since it began, Ride was a hero of mine. (According to Ride’s sister she “hated” labels of every kind, including the word hero.)

Described as a “private” person, Ride kept details about her pancreatic cancer from the public eye. She also chose not to reveal that she was gay. She lived the last 27 years of her life in a same-sex relationship.

Ride is often described as “the first American woman in space.” (A Russian woman named Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space way back in June 1963.) Twenty years later Ride did it aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. (The same shuttle that claimed the lives of seven astronauts just three years later.)

Ride also had a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University and took that brain into space, logging 14 days, 7 hours and 46 minutes of flight time away from the Earth.

Sadly, Sally Ride was prohibited in this country from marrying the person of her choice. And because she was in a same-sex relationship, Ride’s partner of 27 years is not entitled to death benefits or Social Security payments.

A story on says the “majority” of Americans support the concept of same-sex marriage yet identified 1,138 federal benefits that are denied due to DOMA, the Defense Of Marriage Act.

Side note: 1,138? Weird. That’s also found in the title of a movie called THX-1138 that depicts a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police officers and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotion, including sexual desire. How does George Lucas do it? Spooky. Coincidence? Methinks not. 🙂

We live in the United States of America. The home of the free. We have the right to the pursuit of happiness. That right should extend to marrying the person of your choice.

But here in the year 2012, Americans are still denied the right to love and marry the person of their choice regardless of gender. That’s a crushing blow to the concept of “freedom” and the American dream. The right to love the person of your own choice without the spectre of discrimination should be an absolute.

Barack Obama supports the idea of gay marriage. This is generally expressed as “marriage equality” and “equal treatment under the law” for same-sex couples. Mitt Romney has never wavered in his opposition to same-sex marriage. His position is that states should decide what, if any, certain legal benefits will be offered to same-sex couples.

The word discriminate itself means to perceive a difference. Or to act based on those differences, applying varying rights, privileges and treatment on the basis of such differences. In the case of innate traits, we generally find this offensive. Treat someone differently (usually worse) based on such things as the color of their skin, gender, or religious beliefs? Most of us find the idea reprehensible.

Sexual orientation is different. Feed that into the equation and suddenly some of the same people who find discrimination repugnant suddenly seem to feel that it is acceptable.

Some might argue that marriage between a man and a woman is “traditional.” I would rebut with the fact that just because something is traditional does not make it the right and correct thing to do. There have been many “traditions” in the history of human beings that were dead wrong.

I believe that government should only recognize civil unions (for lack of a better phrase). This would function like what most of us think about as “marriage.” It would be legally binding on things like those 1,138 benefits. In addition to civil unions, there would also be “marriage.” This would be solely a religious concept. Much like religious baptisms confer no legal benefits or status, neither would marriage. Religious beliefs are a right and this would maintain the rights of those who wish to do things like be “married before God.”

But the two concepts of legally recognized civil unions and religious-based marriages should never meet.

I’m sad that the person my hero chose to love has been denied some of the rights and privileges that the rest of us take for granted due merely to our sexual orientation. I hope that we will some day fix this wrong.

8 responses

  1. It has surprised me that her passing wasn’t honored more publicly, but then again, I’ve been somewhat out of the loop. Thanks for writing this.


    1. I agree that civil unions for all are the way to go. As a court reporter I know once noted (she saw a lot of divorce proceedings), marriage exists for two main reasons — taking care of children and preservation of assets. That’s why you sign legal documents to address these concerns. People setting up households together need these protections, no matter who they are. Marriage is not first about love, but is an economic and legal system. If you want a big romantic ceremony celebrating love then you can do it through the non-governmental entity of your choice.

      In addition to the news of Dr. Ride’s death, I have also been thinking about astronauts because of a recent drive across Kansas. Three signs along I-70 point to the hometowns of three Kansas astronauts, including Steve Hawley. I went to Dr. Ride’s Wikipedia page and was surprised to see that Dr. Ride and Steve Hawley were married for five years. I guess I knew that at one time, but had forgotten it. We make a big deal out of our Kansas astronauts.

      Here’s what Wikipedia says: “Ride was extremely private about her personal life. She married fellow NASA astronaut Steve Hawley in 1982; they divorced in 1987.
      After death, her obituary revealed that Ride’s partner of 27 years was Tam O’Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology, at San Diego State University and childhood friend who met Ride when both were aspiring tennis players. O’Shaughnessy became a science teacher and writer and, later, the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Ride’s company, Sally Ride Science. She co-authored several books with Ride. Their relationship was revealed by the company and confirmed by Ride’s sister who also stated that Ride chose to keep her personal life private, including her sickness and treatments.”

      Here’s a link to four Kansas Astronauts, including the first African American astronaut: Captain Edward J. Dwight, Jr. of Kansas City, Kansas.


      1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Broken records have got nothing on me. (That’s probably another phrase that’ll need ‘splaining to the youngins.)

        In the beginning, 10 folks came to America and started a “democracy.” Nine of the promptly told the remaining person what he could and could not do based on something their god told them.

        I find it sad that in the greatest democracy on earth so many of us want to control our neighbors. They expend so much time and energy at it. They really do need a more productive hobby. I was very uplifted to see so many take time out of their lives to eat fast food chicken while simultaneously taking a metaphorical shit on the rights of people like Sally Ride. It was a great day to be alive.

        Interesting stuff. I’ve never been on I-70 so I’d never have know that. You know how much I love it when you on trips. 🙂


    2. To: Hippie.

      It’s weird how some extremely major news hardly blips on the national radar at all, or lasts for an extremely short time. I’m glad I was about to remind you about her.


  2. Well said, Guru. Well said.


  3. I agree that there should be a Civil Union for all. Then if people want have this union “sanctified” in a ceremony at a church/temple/mosque – so be it. Like Catherine said, the original purpose of marriage was to preserve assets and take care of children. Since over half of marriages end in divorce (and others procreate without the benefit of marriage), I’m think it’s brave that anyone chooses to get married. I have selfish interests as well. As the mother of two sons, one of them gay, I hope my gay son can marry the man he loves if he so chooses. That would make me one happy mother-of-the-groom/s. 🙂


    1. What a great mom. I bet you’ll also make a great mother-in-law. 🙂

      You raise a good point. I forgot the stats. Over half of marriages end in divorce. Many children come into the world without a “traditional” marriage. And how many heterosexual marriages have suffered from infidelity? A lot.


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