MILTON — Kim Marrkand and Kathleen Henry always loved when it rained. They would share an umbrella, walk side by side. And their arms might touch.
In the late 1960s, most gay couples lived in the shadows, their love hidden from an unaccepting world. But under that umbrella, in a world apart, Marrkand and Henry could be together, even if they wouldn’t dare hold hands.
“I’d hold my hand, the hand next to you,” Henry told Marrkand recently in their Milton condo, reminiscing about the early days of their relationship. “I’d hold it in a fist, pretending.”
On Wednesday, Marrkand, 69, and Henry, 70, celebrated 50 years of commitment to one another, a relationship that began the year of the pivotal Stonewall Inn riots and that has traced the long fight for gay rights and marriage equality.
They declared their commitment to each other on June 26, 1969, a time when homosexual acts were illegal in nearly every state. They kept their relationship secret, except for family and close friends, until they were legally married 35 years later on June 26, 2004.
“What silence does is it, first of all, makes your relationship invisible,” Marrkand recalled. “You become inauthentic.”
The couple wanted to share their story in hopes that gay teenagers will realize that they, too, can find love, success, and acceptance.
“We want to say that this kind of commitment is possible,” Henry said. “And we’re so happy. And we’re so grateful for our happiness.”
In an interview this week, Marrkand, a civil litigation lawyer, wore a pearl necklace and matching pink sweater and jacket. Henry, a writer, wore round glasses, a blue dress, and a silver necklace that swirled like a scroll around her neck.
They’re different, noted Marrkand’s sister, Mary Kervin, but their shared values have made their relationship work.
“Kim and Kathleen approach you,” she said. “They’re not waiting for you to go see them. They are going to extend themselves to you. . . . That’s how they’ve always been.”
They met their sophomore year in high school at Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls school in Worcester.
Henry vividly remembers the first time she saw Marrkand. She was putting her books in her locker and was wearing “a real dorky pocketbook.”
Marrkand decided to become friends with Henry after hearing her sing, she recalled.
“What first struck me about Kathleen that made her unforgettable was . . . she stood up in front of an auditorium of 400 girls and sang ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ by Stephen Foster,” she said. “That took a huge amount of courage.”
They became fast friends. But it wasn’t until they left for different schools — Marrkand for Marquette University in Milwaukee and Henry for Manhattanville College, north of New York City — that each realized their relationship meant more.
“I remember feeling something physically and thinking, ‘If Kim ever knew I felt that way she would never speak to me again,’” Henry said.
But separately, Marrkand was feeling the same way.
Henry worked at her college cafeteria so that she could buy stamps for the daily letters she would send to Marrkand and afford their weekly payphone calls.
Letters, phone calls — these were signs for two young women struggling to uncover their emotions. In time, their love transcended their fears.
“When we both realized we had fallen in love with each other, we made a commitment to each other,” Marrkand said.
Thirty-five years later, they were the first gay couple to be married at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Boston, now the Taj.
“You would think that couples who had been together as long as we had, that getting married would be just a party,” Marrkand said. “But it was a profound and life-changing experience to be able to say those words, ‘We’re married.’”
“I think marriage is sacred,” Marrkand continued. “You can make your private vows, but there’s a reason that opposite sex couples choose to get married publicly. There’s the affirmation of the community. And to have the affirmation of the community . . . it’s a way of saying, ‘Oh, they’re going to help us. They’re going to support us.’ And then we carry that forward.”
Marrkand and Henry had long fought for gay rights. Before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that same-sex couples have the legal right to marry, Marrkand had worked to try to get domestic partnership legislation enacted. Henry helped establish gay-straight alliances in high schools in Massachusetts.
Last weekend, the couple had a party with family and friends to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Henry was ecstatic, beaming, Kervin said. She had seen that look once before, the day Marrkand and Henry told her family about their relationship.
“There was like this lightness to her,” she said. “Because it was out . . . she was so happy. So Saturday night, it was like she had that look on her face again.”
Marrkand gave a speech, and Henry sang two songs: “Beautiful Dreamer,” the ballad that won her Marrkand’s attention in high school, and “I Loved You Once in Silence,” from the musical “Camelot.”
“The words to that are . . .” Henry began.
“So perfect,” Marrkand finished.
Then one day we cast away our secret longing
The raging tide we held inside would hold no more
The silence at last was broken
We flung wide our prison door
Ev’ry joyous word of love was spoken