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    Monday, March 20, 2023

    Colchester couple celebrates 46 years

    Janet Peck, right, jokes with her wife Carol Conklin about misplaced spoons in the kitchen of their Colchester home Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Colchester — When Janet Peck sat down next to Carol Conklin at their mutual friends’ dinner party more than four decades ago, it was as if everybody else in the room disappeared.

    When they went on a camping trip a couple of weeks later with their friends and the same thing happened, they began seeing each other. Conklin, 69, and Peck, 71, who were then in their 20s and back from college, had first met through mutual friends at Manchester High School.

    They didn’t hang out together in high school, but Peck, who was in Conklin’s sister’s age group and used to sing in high school, remembers that Conklin was always listening to her sing.

    Peck said she was drawn to Conklin because she was a very kind, nurturing and loving person, and Conklin said she was struck by just about everything about Peck and they shared similar interests.

    “Forty-six years later, here we are,” said Peck during a recent interview with Conklin in the living room of their Cape Cod-style home in Colchester.

    The couple, who has been at the forefront of the fight for marriage equality in Connecticut and together for 46 years, reflected on their relationship, the progress they made, and why it’s important to keep fighting for rights.

    When Peck and Conklin first started seeing each other in the 1970s, they made the decision to come out right away to everyone: their families, workplaces and social circles.

    “We really believed that in doing so we would show to the rest of the world, so to speak, that we were no different than anybody else and our relationships are just as loving and committed as anyone else’s,” said Peck.

    But they faced some challenges, she said.

    Conklin said she was working as a cook at a restaurant in the 1970s and was falsely accused of coming on to some of the waitresses and fired. Peck said there were no recourses at the time, though an anti-discrimination law later was passed in Connecticut in the early 1990s.

    Peck said she was laid off from her office job in the 1980s, and while she’s not sure if she was laid off because she was a lesbian, four of the six people who were laid off were gay or lesbian.

    When Peck started having health issues about 20 years into their relationship and had a major surgery, the hospital wouldn't let Conklin visit her in the intensive care unit.

    Peck said they recognized they needed more protections for their relationship, but they also wanted to get married for the same reason everybody else wants to get married: because they loved each other and wanted to make a commitment to each other.

    Peck and Conklin became plaintiffs in Connecticut’s right to marry lawsuit and told their story, and they were able to be more visible and share what their relationship was about, Peck said. Conklin said they told people about how they loved each other and wanted to get married.

    The experience required them to interface with the media and Conklin said she was very shy, but she found the courage to stand up because it was important.

    As well as speaking as plaintiffs in the right to marry lawsuit, Conklin and Peck would also tell their story and why they wanted to marry as speakers in Love Makes A Family's Speaker's Bureau where Peck served as co-chair.

    The case was won in October of 2008, granting same-sex couples the right to marry. In January of 2009, after 33 years together, Peck and Conklin got married at The Riverhouse in Haddam, with friends and family traveling from all over to celebrate with them.

    "It was wonderful," Conklin said. Peck described it as a "dream come true."

    The ceremony was as much a celebration of the couple as it was a celebration and a thank you to friends and family who had supported them for all these years, Peck said. Though their parents were no longer alive, Peck and Conklin said they would have been there too to celebrate with them.

    Peck said her parents were immediately supportive when she came out, and her friends were supportive too, though maybe one or two people in her life had trouble with it.

    Peck and Conklin said it took Conklin's parents, who were Catholic, some time to come to terms with it because of their religion, but her parents came to a celebration of the couple's 20-year anniversary. Then, when Conklin's father had Alzheimer’s and came to live with the couple in Connecticut so they could take care of him, he told them that he thought they should be able to get married as he thought they had the same relationship he had with Conklin's mother.

    The couple recalls how when they first moved to Colchester in the 1980s, rocks were thrown at their house and people driving by, likely adolescent boys, said obscene things and called them names. When they won the marriage case in 2008, the reaction was very different, Peck recalls. The couple was featured in the local paper and people came up to them to shake their hands and say congratulations in the bank or the grocery store.

    The couple now has enjoyed 46 years together and Conklin became one of the first female state-licensed electricians in Connecticut and started her own electricial contracting business, after becoming a master electrician, and Peck, after working office jobs, had a private practice in mental health counseling in Colchester for almost 30 years.

    "We love each other," Conklin said. "We like doing the same things."

    Peck said their relationship, in many ways, is what marriage is about — love.

    "We're committed," she said. "We've been together forever. We love each other desperately and even through sickness and health which is the part we're at now where Carol is struggling with a very difficult illness."

    Conklin has Alzheimer’s disease and is in a clinical trial at Yale University.

    The couple enjoys taking hikes, traveling, and, now during the pandemic, doing puzzles. They are planning a two and a half month trip in their camper to Alaska this summer.

    They said one of the reasons they got involved in marriage equality was also for all the other people who wanted to get married, especially so younger generations didn't have to be so fearful or struggle for their rights.

    "When we won the marriage case in 2008, and it was subsequently passed on a national level, it really did feel as though we had come a long way and all our work since coming out in 1975 was finally paying off," Peck said.

    Peck and Conklin said it's very sad and discouraging to see the progress made now going backwards with laws in Florida and other states, which limit discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

    Peck encouraged LGBTQIA+ individuals to keep coming out and being visible and also join with other minorities to be one voice together for equality.

    Peck said she wants to reach out to younger people and tell them to keep fighting, stand tall, be proud of who they are, and keep fighting.

    At age 16, Peck said she did not know that lesbians could be in long-term, wonderful relationships. At that age, she never dreamed she could have had the life she did and wants to tell younger people that they too can have successful, wonderful, loving, and beautiful lives.

    “Carol and I have been so lucky, so lucky to have found each other, so lucky to have each other, so lucky to have had the life that we had and continue to have," she said.


    Janet Peck and Carol Conklin walk down the driveway of their Colchester home at the end of on of their regular strolls together Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Janet Peck and Carol Conklin go for their regular walk along the quiet roads near their Colchester home Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Janet Peck, left, and Carol Conklin sit together for breakfast in their Colchester home Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Carol Conklin, left and Janet Peck work on a jigsaw puzzle in their Colchester home Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Janet Peck, front, reads e-mails as her wife Carol Conklin works on a jigsaw puzzle at their Colchester home Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    In this file photo, Carol Conklin, left, and Janet Peck of Colchester, in front of their camper van, are planning a road trip to Alaska that has been postponed several times since 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    In this file photo, Carol Conklin, left, and Janet Peck sing "You Are My Sunshine" while they participate with Shared Voices choir, sponsored by the Connecticut Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association, on Thursday, April 30, 2020, at their home in Colchester. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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