Earlier this year, a Jefferson County judge found that Dean LaFleur and an ex-boyfriend were legally married and had to go through a divorce to formally end their relationship even though their commitment ceremony had taken place in 2003, eleven years before gay marriage was legalized in Colorado.
LaFleur, whose onetime paramour had filed a lawsuit against him, lost a sizable amount of his assets in the resulting settlement, which left him feeling frustrated and confused.
"I'm not sure what the Supreme Court was intending when they said that not only do you [gay Americans] have the right to get married, but you always did," he said in September. "Did they really mean that the court can retroactively call you married? Because there's no such thing as retroactive divorce."
Now, Tim Pyfer, LaFleur's onetime significant other, is stepping forward to offer another point of view. He stresses that he didn't receive a windfall as a result of the case's resolution.
Yes, he was granted four years of spousal support, but he's still struggling to make ends meet as a server at a local restaurant because of the financial strains that resulted from pursuing the case. "Dean said he has $30,000 in legal fees," he notes. "I have $35,000."
Nonetheless, he feels he did the right thing by taking the matter to court. "This helps other people like me, and people in the future, because it sets a precedent," he believes.
In our previous interview, LaFleur told us that he has an aversion to marriage dating back to the time he spent as a fighter pilot in the Navy: "I saw buddies getting nasty divorces — having to leave their homes, and having to watch their wives stay in their homes and entertain other men while they were staying in a small apartment. And I said, 'Man, I'm never going to wind up in that position. I'm never going to get married.'"
When Pyfer suggested a commitment ceremony, however, LaFleur went along because, in his words, "it wasn't legally binding. I thought, what could it hurt?"
He readily admitted that the ceremony looked like a wedding, as is demonstrated by the photos in this post, supplied by Pyfer. The images were also presented in court. "Even the decorations were called into question," LaFleur recalled. "Like, 'Aren't those wedding bells hanging over your head?' But how do you decorate for a commitment ceremony? It was just a decoration."
He added: "We called it a commitment ceremony, and the minister did, too. The most it could be called was a mock wedding, because not only wasn't gay marriage legal then, but we never dreamed it would be. If I felt gay marriage was going to happen just around the corner, I would have been shyer to do it."
Over the next few years, LaFleur said, the relationship between the pair broke down and he moved to California — and when Pyfer wouldn't leave the house, he called the police to remove him. But following LaFleur's return to Colorado in 2009, the pair began dating again, and Pyfer moved back into the house the following year. This scenario continued until December 2017, when they split for good. But LaFleur argued that they were more roommates than romantic partners for a significant portion of this period, and even pursued relationships with others.
In court, LaFleur supplemented this information with evidence that the couple "lived completely separate financial lives. ... There were no joint tax returns, no shared ownership of cars and property and health insurance for spouses and things that normally indicate a common-law marriage." But in July, First District Judge Margie Enquist "declared that my agreement to participate in a ceremony that looked like a wedding, even though we didn't call it a wedding, was my agreement to be married," LaFleur revealed.
When asked about the accuracy of LaFleur's account, Pyfer says that while the basic chronology is correct, he omitted plenty of key information.
According to Pyfer, he met LaFleur when "I applied for a job at the business he owned, and I got hired. I was sixteen at the time, and he was 33. At first it was a professional thing. But eight months later, when I was still sixteen, we started our relationship, and we took a trip to New Orleans when I was seventeen."
More travel followed, and eight years later, during a 2003 trip to Mexico, Pyfer remembers that "I asked Dean to marry me. I didn't ask him to 'commitment ceremony' me. I asked him to marry me."
Pyfer insists that LaFleur didn't mention his dislike of marriage at that time or at any other point in their relationship. Instead, "he pondered [the marriage proposal] for a couple of minutes and eventually said, 'Yes.'"
When it came to the ceremony, Pyfer did most of the planning, but he says LaFleur chose the reverend who administered the vows and made the appointment to get fitted for tuxedos. In Pyfer's opinion, "He seemed excited."
After the event, which was attended by a number of family members and friends, Pyfer says, "I considered it a marriage, because it was as far as we could go then. It was brought up, 'Why didn't you get married in 2014, when it became legal?' And my response was that I already considered us married, and that if we got married again, it would be like the past eleven years wouldn't have counted."
As for LaFleur's time in California beginning in 2007, Pyfer says he was initially asked to relocate, too, but decided against doing so because "it was a startup business and I didn't see it going anywhere. We split up in November, and afterward, I was taking care of the property because he wasn't there. He came home and took me out to dinner for my birthday on January 28 of 2008, and he told me he was leaving me because I hadn't experienced that much, and he wanted me to go and experience more. Then, at the end of February, he gave me a 48-hour notice to move. And I couldn't move in 48 hours, so that's when he called the cops."
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Most of the period between their 2009 reunion and last year constituted a genuine relationship, Pyfer emphasizes — and, in fact, he says they were working on reconciling as recently as September 2017, just a few months before their final breakup. Afterward, he feared "that I had no rights. So I did my research and found a lawyer to determine whether or not it was a common-law marriage. I told my lawyer the whole story — even how, when I would introduce Dean as my husband, he would never say, 'No, I'm not.' And she said, 'I think you've got a case.'"
Jefferson County agreed. But when LaFleur went public afterward, Pyfer admits, how he characterized the case "hurt. It was just a bunch of lies. He was holding himself out as a victim, and that's not true."
Hence Pyfer's decision to speak for himself — and he hopes that by doing so, he will help others in a similar situation.
"So some good came out of it," he feels, "even if I'm not on my feet."