Box Turtle Bulletin

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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for July, 2010

Elderly Gay Man Forcibly Separated from Dying Partner Awarded Damanges In Settlement

Jim Burroway

July 24th, 2010

The Mercury News reports that Clay Greene, 78-year-old Sonoma County, California man who was forcibly separated from his dying partner and whose house and belongings were sold by social workers, has won a $600,000 settlement from Sonoma County:

Greene accused social workers of denying him hospital visitation rights to see his partner, Harold Scull, despite signed wills, medical declarations and powers of attorney naming each other as spouses. The couple was not married nor registered as domestic partners.

The lawsuit also alleged that after Scull’s death, social workers forced Greene into a nursing home and sold the couple’s property, including art and heirlooms. The county’s lawyer, Gregory Spaulding, denied the discrimination claims but admitted mistakes in selling the couple’s property.

Under California law, property worth $5,000 or less can be sold by officials to cover medical expenses. But the couple’s property brought in more than $25,000 at auction. The Public Guardian’s office has revised its policies, according to Spaulding.

Sonoma County Forcibly Separates Elderly Gay Couple

Jim Burroway

April 19th, 2010

Some of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s directive to HHS to formulate rules requiring hospitals and health care institutions to honor LGBT patients’ ability to choose their partners as hospital visitors and decision makers stem from the mistaken belief that if those LGBT couples had signed powers of attorneys and advance medical directives, none of those problems would take place. But as tragic stories like this show, that simply isn’t true:

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.

Harold died, and Clay wasn’t allowed to be there to comfort him. Clay is also without all of their momentos and life possessions that they two had acquired together, with the exception of one photo album. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has filed a lawsuit on their behalf against Sonoma County. Trial begins on July 16.

In 2007, a Florida hospital denied Janice Langbehn access to her dying partner, again despite having a legal power of attorney.

Some Cool County Clerks

Timothy Kincaid

June 16th, 2008

We’ve told you about the counties where the Clerks were ungracious about facilitating the marriages of gay couples. Here’s a few that are happy for us.

Sonoma County (NY Times)

Janice Atkinson, the Sonoma County clerk, said her office was planning to stay open late for the rest of the month to accommodate what she expected would be a heavy load of same-sex weddings. On Sunday, Ms. Atkinson and staff members attended a gay pride celebration in Sonoma to hand out applications for marriage licenses to prospective newlyweds.

“We’re expecting some very happy couples,” she said. “And a lot of media.”

Shasta County (Record-Searchlight)

With the change, security concerns have surfaced. After speaking with her office’s employees, as well as the two men to be wed first, Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling’s arranged to have plainclothes officers patrol the clerk’s office area.

“As a department head, it’s my responsibility to make sure my staff feel secure and comfortable coming to work, and I think we’re there. We have what we need,” she said.

In addition, “I don’t want to put those people who come in to get a legally provided service at risk,” Darling said.

I grew up in this rural conservative county.

Alameda County (Contra-Costa Times)

Chief Clerk-Recorder for Alameda County Kevin Hing likened today’s crush of ceremonies to a typical Valentine’s Day. Ususally on a V-Day, the clerk’s office sees a good 75 to 80 licenses and weddings. And as on a V-Day, workers in the clerk’s office have set up a little “reception” area with paper plates on a table with a silver cloth in the hallway outside the wedding rooms. They have little cupcakes and brownies ready to go for the couples after they wed.

To these and all the other county clerks that are sharing joy this week, I give my thanks.