Monday, April 19, 2010

Clay Greene v. County of Sonoma: the Ongoing Fight for Gay Couples to Die with Dignity

     Concerning marriage equality and protections for my (gay) family, I had a "good" Christian dismiss the state of my civil rights: "Come on.  You know you have equal rights."

     Here's what I know. 

     The Defense of Marriage Act and  Don't Ask, Don't Tell remain the law of the land, while the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is collecting dust, waiting for a vote.  There are about 1100 federal rights that the heterosexual, Christian majority in our nation continues to withhold from the homosexual minority.

     President Obama made a step in the correct direction last Thursday, when he ordered new rules on hospital visitation rights for LGBT families and patients.  Still, that leaves plenty of room for discrimination.  Try being an elderly gay couple in Sonoma County California.

     Here is the case docket for Greene v. County of Sonoma et al (from the National Center of Lesbian Rights), a lawsuit concerning the disgusting, tragic, and completely unnecessary discrimination that an elderly gay couple suffered in 2008 in California.  One more case of homophobia and discrimination proving that not all Americans are protected equally under the law.
     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.
     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.
     Cases like Clay and Harold's are the reality that gay and lesbian couples, even those who are married but must travel to states where they have no rights.  Go to Democracy in Action's to support Clay Greene by writing President Obama and voicing your support for LGBT rights.


Russ Manley said...

Good post, Tom. Where'd you find the picture of them? I've looked all over but no luck.

Heretic Tom said...

Thanks, Russ. The picture is from an email that sent to me.

Such a heartbreaking story.