Upon arriving at the comfortable home of Cambria residents Ron Sampson and Vernon Isakson on a perfect spring day last week, I launched the conversation using recent quotes from the partner of movie star Rock Hudson:
“Nobody in their right mind came out …” in the 1960s, Lee Garlington asserted in an interview with People magazine. “It was career suicide.”
Isakson, whose committed, monogamous relationship with Sampson is in its 51st year, agreed with Garlington: “We would never tell the neighbors or people at work, and yet I don’t know who we thought we were kidding because — they knew. It was not really a secret, and yet back then (in the ’60s) you felt you had to keep it a secret because many employers would fire you if they found out.
“Kids might throw stones at you …” back then, Isakson said in jest. “But now we’re just another couple in the neighborhood and nothing’s said. Nothing has to be said: Everybody just assumes …” that the couple is gay.
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Isakson and Sampson, the first gay Cambria couple to be legally married under California law, graciously invited me to their home to discuss the challenges as well as the quality times they have experienced through the years.
In September 2008, they weren’t sure whether they should go ahead with their wedding; they knew the Proposition 8 vote (the measure that attempted to eliminate the right of same-sex marriage) was set for Nov. 4.
“I was digging my heels and saying, ‘I don’t want to do it … we’re going to go through the motion, and they’ll throw it out anyway,’ ” Isakson recalled.
But their pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in San Luis Obispo told them they would be “sorry” if they didn’t proceed — even if Proposition 8 did pass (which it did). So on Sept. 10, 2008, Isakson and Sampson tied the knot, and “we were very thankful (the pastor) did talk us into it,” Isakson said.
Marriage brings with it “all kinds of little perks that people take for granted,” Isakson said.
“Doing taxes jointly” and a lot of other things are made easier and more practical for married couples, he commented.
Asked when he came “out” as a young man in the Long Beach area, Isakson said, “We were never really out, by the definition of ‘out’ today.”
They met at the Long Beach Art Museum in 1964, introduced by a mutual acquaintance. Sampson had just finished his stint with the U.S. Air Force, and Isakson was working in the oil business. Asked about how they were accepted as gay men half a century ago, Isakson remembers, “We were lucky. Both of us were from families that were accepting no matter what.
“My mom always introduced Ron as, ‘This is our adopted son.’ She was always very supportive,” Isakson remembered.
Sampson said, “I came out to myself, and I was 100 percent positive when I was about 12.” His description of revealing his sexual orientation to his mother in his late teens produced healthy laughter in the couple’s living room.
“I went out one night and built up my courage with a whole lot of beer. I came home about 3 in the morning, woke up my mother, and asked her to get dressed and talk to me in my car, which she did.
“Before I came out to her, she said, ‘I hope you didn’t make me get up and come outside just so you’re going to tell me you’re gay.’ She said she had known that for years, and just wanted me to be happy,” Sampson made clear. His mother, now 100 years of age, “is a good Catholic, so she thinks we’re all going to hell anyway, but she’s still supportive!”
Sampson recalled that his father, on his deathbed, said that when Sampson told him he was gay, “ ‘I wasn’t thrilled, but it was OK. But when you told me you were a goddamned Democrat, that damn near killed me.’ ”
Meanwhile, after leaving Orange County, they each got their Realtor license and opened up Gold Coast Realty in the West Village of Cambria on the Fourth of July, 1977.
“Real estate was very good to us; we were very successful,” Sampson explained. “There were no water shortage issues and sewers were going in on Lodge Hill,” which, Isakson pointed out, “opened up all the lots on Lodge Hill to building. This created a mass boom in lots, which we were specialists in during that period.”
Later in their careers, after working in real estate in Santa Cruz and in Paradise, they returned to Cambria.
“We had it right the first time,” Isakson said with a grin.
They are living in the home they had sold to Isakson’s parents (who have since passed away) in 1977.
As the conservation was concluding, Isakson commented, “There has been a tremendous change in our lifetime” in terms of how people react to LGBT people.
However, alluding to recent discriminatory legislation in Indiana and Arkansas, Sampson said, “When it comes to the hatred, there may not be as many churches that are loving and welcoming to LGBT people as churches that aren’t loving and welcoming. But to hear the right wing, ‘If you’re a Christian, period, you’re going to dislike LGBT people,’ and that’s just not true.”
Millions of Americans say they embrace Christianity, but the hard truth is that one Christian’s social values — versus what another Christian believes and practices — can be as far apart as Nipomo is from Neptune.
It’s probably a positive thing that there is no cookie-cutter Christianity. But on the other hand, shouldn’t all who look in the mirror and call themselves Christians buy into, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”?