I would normally save this for the QueerlyKos round-up on Friday, but I didn’t want to wait four days to share this with anyone who hadn’t seen it already. I posted earlier about what happened to a friend of mine when his partner collapsed, and how he had to leave the hospital to drive home and get their legal papers to prove their relationship before he could see his his partner or even get any information. Later I posted about another gay couple in Connecticut — together for 30 years — who facing one partner’s inevitable decline and death from ALS, after which the surviving partner will almost certainly lose the home they have shared.
Well, gay activist, author and educator Eric Rofes died a heart attack earlier this month. He was survived by his partner of 16 years, Crispin Hollings. Daily Kos diarist dmuir has the story of what Hollings had to face in the midst of dealing with his partner’s death. As you might expect, it’s more of the same.
[Eric and Crispin] had made for one another all the necessary legal arrangements: powers of attorney, mutual wills, etc etc. All their bases were covered, so they thought. As soon as he heard the news, Crispin had flown straight out to Provincetown, where Eric died, to make funeral arrangements. A friend who accompanied them said that when Crispin began to detail the requirements for the cremation and commitment at the funeral home in Provincetown, the funeral director drew himself up and demanded to know what the basis of their relationship was. He told Crispin: “I don’t believe you will be making the funeral arrangements”. It required the intervention of NGLTF lawyers and lawyer friends on both coasts to convince the funeral home that he was indeed authorized as a legal partner to make the arrangements. Crispin requested an autopsy, which was contested by the Medical Examiner on the same grounds, and the cremation was subsequently questioned as well (they called during the funeral to argue the case with Crispin).
This stands as a lesson to all of us. We are continually told that as Queers, we do not need to be allowed to marry because all legal avenues of partnership are open to us as domestic partners. For Christ sake- this happened in Massachussetts! They had the gall to question a 16 year old relationship, legally bound as far as two gay men can go. At a time when Crispin was utterly bereft and distraught they had the temerity to impugn his and Eric’s relationship, which was as closely legally covered as they could make it.
Take that story, add it to the ones above, toss in Laurel Hester’s story and you can pretty much see where this post is going.
Imagine that your partner is in the hospital, perhaps dying, and before you can see them or get any information you first have to prove your legal rights to do so, or you have to mount a legal challenge to assert those rights. Imagine that those rights aren’t recognized anyway. Then imagine that you’re the one in the hospital, unable to communicate your wishes and not knowing what’s happening outside your hospital room.
Imagine that your partner is dying, and in the midst of caring for them you know that you will probably have to lose everything and that there’s little you can do about it. Now imagine that you are the one who’s dying, knowing what additional losses you’re loved one will suffer after your death, and knowing there’s nothing you can do and little anyone else will do to protect them from it.
Imagine that your partner has died, and in the midst of your grief you’re barred from honoring their wishes, and have to mount a legal challenge in order to do so. Instead of making funeral arrangements, which is difficult enough, you’re calling attorneys and gathering legal documents in an attempt to prove rights so basic that anyone else with a right and the right equipment between their legs could walk in and claim them without question.
Imagine all that, and then imagine being told you already all you need to protect your rights and your relationship. Imagine all that, and then imagine being told that you don’t need the full suite of rights and protections, and that a reasonably close facsimile will do. Imagine reading this, while you’re partner and family are sleeping soundly elsewhere in the house, realizing that any of the stories above could happen to you and that even employing all of the few legal options available to you may not help at all.
Don’t tell me about legal arrangements. Don’t tell me to get a will. (We have them.) Don’t tell me to get medical power of attorney. (We have those too.) Don’t tell me to get an advance directive. (We have those too.) Don’t tell me about domestic partnerships. (They didn’t spare Laurel Hester or Crispin Hollings any extra grief or trouble.) Don’t tell me about civil unions. (They aren’t doing Rob Scanlon and Jay Baker any good in Connecticut.)
None of those things are marriage, as such they are more easily dismissed, dishonored or simply ignored when asserted or presented. And in the case of domestic partnership or civil unions, being carved out from marriage makes them easier to downgrade or designate for nullification later. None of those things are marriage, and none of them will ever entirely and irrevocably confer the rights and protections of marriage.
Don’t tell me about the need to be pragmatic and to accept that the above all are we can expect and all we should accept for now. Don’t tell me that unless you’re willing and able to justify stories like the above, to say that they ought to happen, and that it’s for the best.
Either we have those rights and protections or we don’t. Either we are citizens or we are not. Either we are fellow human beings or we’re not. That we have to wait makes it clear we’ve already been answered in the negative on all three counts.