Agreeing to disagree
She’s a Democrat, he’s a Republican — but Dick and Shirley Marquis from Tucson, Arizona, maintain peace in their “mixed marriage.” Here’s how they found a way to communicate about hot issues…
By Susanne Janssen
The woman could not believe what she saw on the car at the grocery store parking lot in Tucson. “Why do you have a bumper sticker for Obama on the right and one for Romney on the left side?” she asked the driver. “You can’t decide?”
“No,” answered Dick Marquis. “My wife is a Democrat, and I am a Republican,” he said with a smile. This has been Dick’s reality for more than 50 years in his marriage. While other couples might have different opinions but do not care much for politics, both Dick and his wife Shirley are highly committed and interested. They support different candidates, they discuss the daily news at home, and they are not satisfied with only small talk with friends. How do they keep the peace?
They met while attending college in Boston. Born in Massachusetts, Shirley studied legal secretarial and accounting. “It was always my dream to work in a law office; I wanted to work for social justice,” she says. Dick, who grew up in Maine, is a numbers guy; he studied accounting and retired as a buyer at IBM. As a young man he focused on the government’s financial decisions. “We cannot spend more money than we have,” he thought, and decided to become an active member of the “Young Republicans.”
When Shirley and Dick started dating, she assumed that he was a Democrat like her. “We agreed on the number of children we wanted to have, but we did not ask for our political opinions,” Dick says. When Shirley discovered that he was an active Republican, it was too late. They both understood that they were meant for each other, despite the differences. “I even supported him in his work,” Shirley remembers.
But she did not change her opinion and her view of the world.
As the years passed by, the family grew. The couple was blessed with the nine children they wanted to have. Between raising them, working, moving from Maine to New York to Texas and eventually to Tucson, there was no time to get actively involved with politics.
Discussions among them and with their friends, however, could heat up. Shirley remembers a time when they met with friends after church. Between coffee, donuts and some disrespectful remarks on government plans that she supported passionately, she had an emotional outburst. “After that, we did not talk about politics anymore with these friends,” she remembers. She felt bad and didn’t have a solution.
The way through those difficult moments came not by chance but through little steps, daily acts of mutual understanding. Shirley and Dick got to know the spirituality of unity, and both felt attracted by this approach to integrate their Catholic faith into their everyday life.
“The Gospel does not tell you which party you have to choose; you can be committed to one or the other, to emphasize good values and try to change others,” Shirley says. There are many ways to serve others.
Reconciling these ideas started right at home. “I understood that I had to be completely open to Shirley’s ideas,” says Dick. “And I wanted to be empty and listen without prejudices,” adds Shirley.
Together they learned how to handle teasing from friends. How could Shirley, a committed Catholic, vote for the Democrats? “Being against abortion is only one aspect of how faith affects political decisions,” says Shirley. A law does not resolve people’s situations, either. After retiring from her work at IBM, Shirley became the Executive Director of the “Reachout Pregnancy Center” that helps single mothers to decide in favor of their unborn children.
Moving to Arizona, she found herself surrounded by a majority of friends who are Republicans. In 2008, she felt that she wanted to do more and work as a volunteer for the Obama campaign. “I supported her immediately,” says Dick. Since they now have only one car, it meant scheduling the car for Shirley’s work at Democrat Headquarters. And it meant that one day the Obama bumper sticker appeared, accompanied soon by the Romney edition. That was just the beginning.
“We divided the areas of the house,” Shirley says, chuckling. She decorated one half of the window and a part of the living room. In the evening their son, who is a Republican like his father, came home. “He made some comments and was not delighted, but then it stopped. If he had complained, I would have taken it down,” she says. She let go of her idea of putting a big sign in the front yard.
All their friends were interested and asked how they could stay together without fighting. That was an opportunity to reveal their secret. “Without living the Gospel, I would not have made it,” Shirley shared. She remembers how important it was for her to learn to put aside her thoughts in order to listen to others, to be open to others’ views and to try to see the positive effort in the other party.
“I do not agree with the whole Democratic program, and neither does Dick agree completely with the Republicans.”
The couple figured out some rules and rituals that work. “Every evening we watch the news on CNN and on Fox,” they explain. “Some of Shirley’s news anchors are too left-winged for me,” adds Dick with a smile. It helps them to see the issues from different perspectives. After that they always discuss the facts, without getting too emotional.
Indeed, the family atmosphere fostered a sense of citizenship. All of their 9 children and 22 grandchildren are interested in politics, and some of them are active. How could it be any different? Some are Republicans, and some are Democrats; family reunions are always marked by lively discussions. The relationship though is more important than every political issue.
“I wouldn’t change her political opinion, not a bit,” says Dick, lovingly. Shirley nods. She feels the same way about him. On the most important things in life, they agree.