U.S. President Barack Obama may have recently ordered new rules
to give gays and lesbians the right to visit their partners in the hospital and make decisions about their care, a marriage benefit sometimes denied to same-sex couples.
But Obama's order
, as reported by the Digital Journal's Carol Forsloff, came too late for one Sonoma California same-sex couple.
Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place--wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.
One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold's care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes, according to Kate Kendell
of the Bilerico Project
The Wall Street Journal
reported Obama ordered his health secretary to issue regulations that govern hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid, the government programs for the elderly, disabled and poor. Nearly all hospitals participate in these programs
leads the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a legal organization committed to advancing the legal and human rights of American lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
Ignoring Clay's significant role in Harold's life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. The county argued that Clay was merely Harold's "roommate." The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harold's bank accounts to pay for his care,said Kendell.
Whether navigating end-of-life issues, selecting a safe assisted-living facility, or simply drafting a will, LGBT seniors are entitled to fully equality and basic protections, and access to services and information to make critical decisions.
In this case they were not afforded any rights. The Sonoma County Court took everything they owned and auctioned it off and even moved Clay from the home they had shared for over 20 years and put him in a nursing home against his will.
Kendell said Harold died within three months of entering the nursing home. Clay was robbed by the city of those final three months with his life partner. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life, Kendell said.
With the help of a dedicated and persistent court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa, Clay was finally released from the nursing home. Ms. Dennis, along with Stephen O'Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barrack & Chong
, now represent Clay in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home, with technical assistance from NCLR. A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010, in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.
"Please share with everyone you know. This is why gays and lesbians need to have the same rights as heterosexual couples. I am hurt and offended by these actions, " said Debi, a lesbian who alerted me about this story.
I spoke with numerous same-sex couples over the past few days and the concern continues to run high even with all the "legal documentation" completed and families aware of these binding life agreements between loving couples. One woman said, "Why should heterosexuals be the only ones to suffer through marriages? We want a chance to be as unhappy as most straight couples are after they tie the knot."
In 1999, National Center for Lesbian Rights
was the first LGBT legal organization to launch a permanent Elder Law Project as the first wave of baby boomers became senior citizens. Under the leadership of NCLR’s Joyce Pierson, the Elder Law Project advocates for policies and legislation to protect the medical and financial rights of LGBT elders, and educates the professionals (health care providers, lawyers, case workers) who are charged with assisting them. We also ensure that LGBT seniors have the resources and information they need to access the rights that are currently available to them.
Organizations like SameSexRights.com
work with the gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgender, homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual communities to create a comprehensive financial plan that allows them to feel safe and secure about their retirement years while providing for their partners and children.
This scenario is repeated daily across the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11,
Larry Courtney lost his partner, Eugene Clark, in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center - and then was forced to move out of the apartment in Manhattan they had shared for 14 years.
Courtney could not afford to stay there on a single salary, and few of the agencies that are supposed to help in just such a situation, such as Social Security, recognized the relationship. He has sued the Workers Compensation Board for the $20,000 a year to which a spouse is entitled under such circumstances. "Not having a marriage license was not our fault," he said to Andy Humm of the Gotham Gazette.
While the United States debates "don't ask, don't tell" and GLBT activist fight for the rights of same-sex couple, Andrew John
of the Digital Journal reported
that "religious groups in the United Kingdom have welcomed a new law that will allow them to use their premises for same-sex “marriage” ceremonies."
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign
, a lobby group for gay rights, welcomed President Barrack Obama's action.
touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever," he said.