Brooklyn natives Constance Kurtz (1936-2018) and Ruth Berman (b. 1934) were in traditional marriages to men when they became friends in 1958. Two years later, both couples moved to the Contello Towers apartment development, at 2652 Cropsey Avenue, in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn. In 1970, Kurtz moved to Israel with her husband and two children. When she returned to Contello Towers for a visit in December 1974, the two women reconnected. A few months later, they left their husbands and moved to an apartment at 3080 Voorhees Avenue in Sheepshead Bay. At first, Berman was reluctant to come out to her family; however, they soon affirmed their relationship, got divorced, and became active in the LGBT community. They purchased this house in Marine Park in 1979.
Berman was a high school teacher and counselor. After they got together, Kurtz, a bookkeeper, also sought training and was certified as a counselor. In 1984, they formed a counselling service, “The Answer is Loving,“ headquartered in this house, where they offered individual and group counseling and workshops on such topics as “Parenting,” “Life After Coming Out,” and “Loving (Oneself) in Spite of Violence/Rape and Incest.” They also were frequent speakers or workshop leaders at lesbian groups, founded a branch of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and were active in Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and LGBT rights groups, including the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the New York State NOW Lesbian Rights Task Force, where they served as co-chairs beginning in 2000.
In 1987, Berman, who was working at Sheepshead Bay High School, applied for health benefits for Kurtz. When the Board of Education turned her down, Berman and Kurtz and two other couples who were members of the Gay Teachers Association sued. Seeking public support for their case, Kurtz and Berman began to appear on national radio and television shows, including Donahue and Geraldo, with great success. After the Court of Appeals decided in favor of the suit, Mayor Dinkins established a Domestic Partner Registry for New York City residents and granted domestic partner benefits to teachers and employees in all mayoral agencies.
In 2000, in celebration of their 25th anniversary, Berman and Kurtz took part in a Jewish marriage ceremony performed by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. In 2002, their love and activism were celebrated in Deborah Dickson’s documentary film, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, with many scenes shot in their home. The following year, they sold the house and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, where they continued their activism. In 2011, two days after marriage was legalized for same sex-couples in New York State, they were legally married by Rabbi Kleinbaum. Kurtz passed away in 2018.
This entry, written by project consultant Gale Harris, is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.