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Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News

Without The Other, They Wouldn't Be Complete

By Jeff Hawkes

March 18, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

A hawk launched itself from a mountain perch and soared above a lush tropical valley.

The scene is a memory Erica Millner retains of Puerto Rico.

On a whim in 1998, Millner and Mayra Muniz sold most of their belongings at a yard sale and left Massachusetts for the warmth and beauty of the Caribbean island. The women, who were in their 20s, were determined to live fully and love deeply. The grace and confidence of the hawk is a metaphor for their life together.

Millner and Muniz moved into a small mountaintop home where it didn't much matter that the power was out for three months after a hurricane.

What sustained them was building a life together in a place where the view from any direction was an unbroken canopy of treetops reaching as far as the eye could see.

Having little in the way of living expenses, Millner and Muniz found they could support themselves picking oranges and making and selling macrame jewelry. They became immersed in the culture of folk artists who traveled from street fair to street fair. Their new friends invited them to stay in their homes. Millner reciprocated by sharing her love of cooking.

Budding enterprise

Millner and Muniz found their new life richly satisfying, all the more so because the jewelry they fashioned had begun to sell better than they could have dreamed.

They wove island seeds - the black maraca, the blue-gray Jobe's tear - into their jewelry. Then Muniz began experimenting with hard tropical woods.

The necklaces, pendants and bracelets they created distinguished themselves and found a ready market.

"We got known," Millner said. "We were very fortunate. Things just really worked out for us."

Over time, however, Puerto Rico began to lose its luster. While Millner's and Muniz's friends accepted their relationship because it seemed right for the couple, the wider society was less open to the way the women sought to live.

"If you're not living with a man," Millner said, "you're considered prey."

On visits with family in New Jersey and New York City, the couple grew homesick. After more than four years in Puerto Rico, they were ready for a change.

Last summer, they bought a home on a pleasant block of North Mary Street, where they keep three dogs and repair to a basement workshop equipped with band saws, sanders and other tools employed in sculpting rough wood into elegant pieces of jewelry they sell at juried art shows.

Deserving respect

Both Millner, 28, and Muniz, 34, are lean and dark-haired. Sometimes they are mistaken for sisters.

What's unmistakable is their belief in themselves as a team. One would not be complete without the other.

In the way they have knit their lives and work - following their hearts, plunging into the unfamiliar, creating from nothing a successful business - they have forged a partnership, a truly inseparable union.

Yes, they wish for the right to marry.

They want to marry because it matters to them deeply that society not trivialize their commitment.

They wish for equality in the eyes of the law. It grieves them that the government says they're nothing to each other.

"To the government, we're just friends living together," Muniz said. "If we fill out a form asking about marital status, we have to put down single."

And that's a lie. Millner and Muniz have never lived a lie.

Laurie Millner of Tom's River, N.J., is Millner's mother. She admits she worried when her daughter informed her of her orientation. She didn't want things to be hard for her.

Today, the elder Millner is proud of the life her daughter is making with Muniz.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that Erica is happy," Laurie Millner said. "That's all I ever wanted for her."

"I would love nothing better," she added, "than to have a wedding for Erica and Mayra. It would be so nice to have the whole family come and celebrate."

It's a commitment that should be celebrated. A just society, in fact, would go even further than affirming a commitment. It would respect the desire of Millner and Muniz, and people like them, to marry.

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