The following story has been going around the Internet all week. It’s a sad story, but there are parts of it I don’t understand. I’ve personally had legal power of attorney for a few people. I’ve been posting about helping a friend with HIV get his disability back for the last six months, and I’ve been his legal power of attorney throughout the process. And as legal power of attorney, I’ve had full control of the case. I have not experienced any discrimination and I’ve been treated with complete respect. So if these guys in the story below had all their papers together, and at least one was of sound mind and body, I don’t understand how their legal papers were not recognized. Maybe it’s a California thing? I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve never had any problems as power of attorney.
Aside from these questions about the story below, it’s time for gay and lesbian couples to have the equal rights they deserve. They should have the same rights straight couples have, without having to go out and get all kinds of legal documents to maintain their lives.
There is nothing more personal than how we wish to spend our final years. After decades with our loved ones there should be no dispute that we should get to spend our final moments together.
Unfortunately Sonoma County, CA treated Harold and Clay as if they were strangers.Harold was 88 and Clay was 77 when their 20 year relationship was assaulted by Sonoma County. Harold’s time here was coming to an end. He was ill and life was further complicated when he took a tumble down the stairs of their home. Harold was taken to the hospital.
Like most same sex couples who are committed to taking care of each other in sickness and in health, Harold and Clay set up legal documents prior to their personal crisis that were supposed to tell authorities to honor their relationship. Clay should have been able to visit Harold in the hospital and make decisions about his care. Instead, the county and health care professionals refused to let Clay even visit Harold in the hospital.
Tragic as that was, the county was not done with this family. More brutality than any government should inflict on a family — they separated Clay and Harold by placing them in different nursing homes. Remember, Clay was in good health. He was involuntarily committed.Kate Kendell, the National Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the legal and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people wrote for the Bilerico Project: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.
Outrageously, the county represented to the judge 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.What happened next is even more chilling.Without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold’s possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will.
The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold’s lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property.
The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life.Clay was eventually released from the nursing home following a lawsuit. A further lawsuit is pending against Sonoma County, the auction company, and the nursing home. A trial date is set for July 16, 2010.As important as this lawsuit is, there is nothing any government, court, or lawyer can do return the dignity and respect Harold and Clay were deprived. No authority will be able to return the last few months of Harold’s life, or the chance for Clay and Harold to embrace each other one last time.
We need full legal recognition for same sex couples — in name and law — in every state in this country. We need it now.