02 May, 2010

Case Study: Why 1,138 federal marriage rights matter

AS OF MAY 2004—the last time this analysis was conducted, six years ago—there were ONE THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-EIGHT FEDERAL LAWS where martial status is a factor in determining rights, benefits, responsibilities, obligations, protections, etc.

In the past ten years alone, the IRS code (Title 26 of the United States Code) has grown by some 35,000 page or approximately 50% (thanks to Dorian Davis for this video factoid); if we presume that the IRS code grew 3,500 pages per year over the past ten years (using simple math--not trying to do complicate things), then we can say that it grew 21,000 pages over the past six years. In those 21,000 pages, how much would you like to bet that there are some new laws where marital status is a factor—and that's just in the IRS code, which constitutes only a portion of the United States Code surveyed to determine the number of laws where marital status is a factor.

How does this affect the every day individual—"Joe Schmoe," so the speak—you ask yourself? I present you with a real-world example of just how horrible things can go when one isn't afforded all of the protections conferred upon married couples by those 1,138-or-so federal laws:

I'd like to introduce you to Clay Greene, since the press and news media have decided to ignore this story (thanks to the efforts of some of our staunchest stalwarts like Bil Browning (of the Bilerico Project, which initially broke this sordid story on 17 April 2010), Andrew Sullivan, and Michaelangelo Signorile, to name a few), with the notable exception of The New York Times, albeit only on its blog site and only for the SF Bay Area, and only after three days of hounding by the LGBT media to bring attention to this barbarous story (as Mr. Sullivan so aptly puts it):

In the event that you've missed any of the reporting surrounding Mr. Greene, here's a quick update:

Clay Greene, a 78-year-old gay man from Sebastopol, filed a lawsuit against Sonoma County claiming he sustained spate of indignities at the hands of county officials during a bizarre estate battle that took place when Harold Scull, Mr. Greene's partner of 20+ years who was 88 at the time, fell and became hospitalized in 2008.

[As an aside, The New York Times points out that news of Mr. Greene's case came out just as POTUS Obama published his Presidential Memorandum on hospital visitation, which I've previously debunked as being pure rubbish and amounting to a hill of nothingness.]

Sonoma County (California) officials successfully petitioned the court to gain some powers of conservatorship. Then they “sold, kept, converted to their own use, and otherwise disposed of” almost $500,000 worth of belongings from the home shared by the two men — including furniture, art objects, and memorabilia from the years Mr. Scull spent working in Hollywood, as well as a truck and two cats.

Mr. Greene has stated that he and Mr. Scull previously had specified each other as executors in case either became incapacitated; however, Sonoma County officials ignored the couple's previously prepared legal documents and the history of their relationship, and at one point referred to Mr. Greene as Mr. Scull’s “roommate.”

Citing the state of Mr. Greene’s "mental health," Sonoma County officials then moved him—against his will—into a nursing home, and sold the rest of his belongings. He was not allowed to visit Mr. Scull, who died several months later, in August 2008.

Long story short: elderly gay couple, with all of the legal documents they could muster, because they were not allowed to marry, had the state trample all over their life and literally tear apart and obliterate their lives and cherished possessions. You can read more about the couple on The National Center for Lesbian Rights' web site in an article (hosted by The Bilerico Project) written by its executive director, Kate Kendell.

Also, be sure to check out the update posted by OutQ News where Sonoma County's response alleges that it was acting "in good faith" on a domestic violence claim—a claim that neither police nor the district attorney's office know anything about. Perhaps even more disturbing is the answer by Sonoma County that the county's bookkeeping records are "awful" and they haven't a clue as to where or to whom the proceeds from the auctions were disbursed!

Now, had Messrs. Greene and Clay been married, this, to quote the inspector from Woody Woodpecker, would never have happened. In those 1,138 or so federal laws pertaining or relating to marital status, there are protections for couples to prevent the government from making such harsh and punitive intrusions into a couple's life. Absent these protections (i.e., absent marriage), this same scenario could happen to anyone.

And, in fact, it did happen to another couple a few years ago. An unnamed couple living in Westchester County, New York, had a very similar situation happen to them. Unfortunately, I'm still awaiting details of their situation from a friend who personally knows them and their situation (*ahem*, LG, if you're reading this, please hurry?).

"So what can or shoud I/we do about this?", you may be asking yourself? The answer is very, very simple: demand full marriage equality for all consenting adult couples.

In the meantime, we can make some noise about the unfortunate and undeserving circumstances of couples like Messrs. Clay & Greene. As one friend on Facebook put it, it's:

TIME TO MAKE SOME NOISE:
Sonoma County, California has a board of 5 Supervisors, and each one of them needs to hear how ANGRY we are that something so heinous occurred on their watch! You can contact each supervisor by e-mail below (individual email addresses). If you would rather phone, they are reached through a common switchboard at (707) 565-2241. ASK THEM WHAT IS BEING DONE WITH REGARD TO THIS INSTANCE, AND HOW ARE THEY GOING TO ENSURE NOTHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS AGAIN. DEMAND THE FIRINGS OF THOSE INVOLVED.

FIRST DISTRICT: Supervisor Valerie Brown
vbrown@sonoma-county.org
SECOND DISTRICT: Supervisor Mike Kerns
mkerns@sonoma-county.org
THIRD DISTICT: Supervisor Shirley Zane
szane@sonoma-county.org
FOURTH DISTRICT: Supervisor Paul Kelley
pkelley@sonoma-county.org
FIFTH DISTRICT: Supervisor Efren Carrillo
ecarrillo@sonoma-county.org

Additionally, we can write letters to the Editors of our local newspapers, asking them why this story hasn't run in their newspaper, and we can also contact our local press and news media offices, asking them the same question.

Bringing light to this issue will help educate the American public as to Why Marriage Equality Matters (note: this links to a PDF file) to us; it's not j!ust some abstract theory we're fighting for. This involves real people, and real lives. It truly is a matter of justice.

Just remember, there are over one-thousand, one-hundred and thirty eight reasons under federal law alone for couples to get married; Harold & Clay's story is but one of the myriad in which couples have suffered without these essential and necessary protections afforded to everyone else.

[Note: I am e-mailing each of the five Sonoma County Supervisors a copy of this blog article; any responses they provide will be published on my blog either as a comment herein or as a follow-up blog posting.]

[Note: This section was added after the initial posting, at 3:45pm]: A friend just reminded me of something: we can also ask our national LGBTQ organizations—those well-established organizations supposedly "have our backs", such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Lambda Legal, for starters, just where the *(!&_@! they have been during this tragedy. HCR, NGLTF, ACLU & Lambda are the oldest and most well-established organizations in the country fighting for LGBTQ rights. Just where have they been throughout Clay's & Harold's ordeal? And where are they now? The answer, to date: ominously silent.

We, as a community, should also direct our and and our outrage at our own organizations—the very organizations that are supposedly fighting for our rights. Well here sits an egregious story filled with unconscionable behavior, and the very organizations that purport to represent us are just sitting idly by (with the notable exception of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, of course, which has spearheaded Clay's cause), attending $30,000/plate dinners with POTUS Obama. What a farce they all are.

It's time, indeed, for new leadership, new organizations, and a new direction, if we ever are to achieve the equality that we so desperately seek and deserve.

[Updated 3 May 2010 4:55pm UTC] This is the full text of the 2004 report by the United States General Accounting Office [PDF].

Labels: , , , , , , ,