An interview with Joseph Stackpole in late October.

November 16, 2012

Man who 'gave a face' to Maine marriage issue dies

Joseph Stackpole, the inspiring man profiled in a Bill Nemitz column, dies of cancer six days after Election Day.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

Joseph Stackpole lived long enough to see Mainers vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Joseph Stackpole is shown in his hospital bed at Maine Medical Center on Oct. 26. Stackpole lived long enough to see Maine voters approve same-sex marriage on Election Day.

Gabe Souza/2012 Press Herald file

But his dream that he and his partner could get married in Maine won't be realized.

The 68-year-old Old Orchard Beach man, whose story inspired other gay couples, died Monday at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough. He was diagnosed in October with a rare, aggressive form of cancer called plasma cell leukemia.

Stackpole died six days after Maine became the first state to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. He hoped to live long enough to marry his partner, Richard Johnson, but his doctors told him that wasn't likely.

Same-sex weddings will probably start in January, after the election results have been certified by the Secretary of State's Office, Gov. Paul LePage has approved them and a constitutionally mandated 30-day waiting period has passed.

"It wasn't meant to be," said Johnson, who is 70. "But Joseph thought he could claim at least a few votes (in support of same-sex marriage) after the article ran in the newspaper."

In October, when Stackpole was a patient at Maine Medical Center, he contacted Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz.

Stackpole told Nemitz that he wanted his home state to allow him and Johnson to make their partnership of 16 years a marriage by approving same-sex marriage at the polls.

"I was going to write a letter to the editor," Stackpole told Nemitz. "But I'm not sure I have the strength."

He told Nemitz how much it would mean to him if voters approved same-sex marriage and he could marry Johnson in Maine, where he lived all his life.

One reader, Andres Verzosa, responded by posting the newspaper column on his Facebook page. That led to an outpouring of interest.

Verzosa, who owns and operates an art gallery in Portland, invited his friends to meet outside Maine Medical Center on the day Nemitz's column appeared, Oct. 28.

They held vigils outside the hospital from then until the night of the election, Nov. 6.

"Bill Nemitz wrote a most compelling story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram and in particular about Joe's hope to live just long enough to see Maine voters legalize same-sex marriage," Verzosa said in an email. "This has inspired us to show him that he is not alone and that he is now going to be joined by many other voices over the next several days until the election."

Verzosa said he was joined at the 5 o'clock vigil each night by people holding signs in support of same-sex marriage or signs that said "you are not alone."

"Joe didn't live long enough to see it enacted as law, but he died knowing that his fellow citizens passed the law. Just him knowing it passed and that he was part of it was good. He gave a face to the issue," said Verzosa, who has a partner but has no plans to get married.

Stackpole graduated from South Portland High School and the University of Maine. He served in Vietnam, and worked for years as an accountant for the Westbrook Housing Authority until retiring two years ago.

Johnson said there will be no obituary or funeral for his partner.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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