This Should Not Happen. Ever.

by Shaker Maud

[Trigger Warning: This story is potentially extremely distressing to people who are not protected by the privileges of legally recognized marriage, i.e. unmarried partners, especially gay partners, who have done everything in their power to protect their legal rights as partners, yet remain at the mercy of bureaucrats when they become elderly and/or in need of medical care because of disease or disability.]

Thanks to Onetimeposter, who left a comment in Sunday's open thread about this story at The Bilerico Project's site.

Clay, 77, and Harold, 88, had shared their lives for twenty years. They had prepared legal documentation to protect their rights as individuals and partners. Both had prepared wills, medical directives and powers of attorney, naming one another in each case. Then Harold fell, and needed to be hospitalized. Apparently hospital personnel refused to recognize Clay as Harold's family and legally-designated carer/advocate, and contacted county social services, who did likewise and took over significant decision-making for both men's lives, separated them, and essentially incarcerated the two men in separate nursing homes, despite the fact that Clay was healthy, and not in need of such a placement. Three months later, Harold died.

In the meantime, the county went to court to gain financial decision-making power for Harold, lied to the court by representing Clay as merely Harold's roommate, and auctioned off their joint possessions, presumably to recoup costs for their care in these various institutions, care which in Clay's case was neither needed nor wanted, and none of which was according to their joint desire and legal preparation.

Clay has lost his partner of 20 years. He and Harold were robbed of their final three months as partners. His home is gone, as the county surrendered Clay's and Harold's lease to their landlord when they institutionalized the two men. Clay has nothing left of his own life, nor of his and Harold's life together save only a photo album which Harold managed to put together for Clay during his final months. Just as you would expect someone to spend his dying days and remaining strength doing for his "ex-roommate".

What is left to say about this kind of behavior? Outrageous? Certainly. Heartbreaking? Unavoidably. Some people suck so hard it's a wonder they haven't swallowed the whole world? Yes. I'm only left to wonder whether the county workers who walked into these men's lives and devastated what was left of their time together, not to mention the continuing life of Clay, did so solely out of bigotry, or whether it may have made their jobs easier to treat Harold as someone with no family who need be bothered with, and Clay as an old man whose needs were unimportant, rather than treating the two of them as an elderly couple in need of assistance and support in carrying out their own desires for their lives under difficult circumstances. And whether making their jobs easier was a good enough reason in these people's minds to justify doing so.

At some point, the court appointed an attorney, Anne Dennis, to represent Clay. She has since managed to secure his release from the nursing home. She and another attorney, with assistance from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) elder law project, are now representing Clay in a lawsuit against the county whose workers treated him and his partner so callously. July 16 of this year has been set as the date for trial on this matter in Sonoma County, CA.

Neither the article at the Bilerico Project nor the one at NCLR gives a timeline for when these events occurred. Maybe Clay and Harold had not chosen or would not have been able to avail themselves of the opportunity to marry. Maybe the passage of Prop H8 did not affect them. But this story makes clear once again that the right to enter into the civil contract that is marriage, without regard to religious doctrine or ceremony, is fundamental to people's ability to build a family which is recognized by the state, and that denying that right to anyone is not only discriminatory, it is cruel and inhumane.

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