Sonoma violates gay visitation and property rights

And gay bashers claim gays do not need marriage!

Greene v. County of Sonoma et al.
April 2010

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.

With the help of a dedicated and persistent court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis of Santa Rosa, Clay was finally released from the nursing home. Ms. Dennis, along with Stephen O'Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barrack & Chong, now represent Clay in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home, with technical assistance from NCLR. A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010 in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.

To see details of the lawsuit,


NY TIMES editorial: Justice and Comfort

April 17, 2010

The cause of equal rights for gays and lesbians, which is advancing in hard-won increments, moved forward on two important fronts this week.

It was promoted smartly by President Obama’s order that all hospitals receiving federal funds from programs like Medicare or Medicaid must give full visiting rights to patients’ same-sex partners. Too many hospitals currently require ties by blood or marriage, thereby keeping partners from the bedside of ailing patients.

We were also encouraged by word from the House Democratic leadership that it intends to move forward on long-awaited legislation banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And this time the measure has been broadened to include transgender people.

The improved measure offered by Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, already has 199 co-sponsors, including six Republicans. Seventeen more votes are needed, and we hope that other lawmakers will sign on; the bill’s growing support is already further evidence that bias against gays and lesbians is easing in the public eye and political arena.

A narrower measure omitting transgender people was approved three years ago in the House but died in the Senate. “Nobody that I know of lost any race because of it,” Mr. Frank told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

If, as expected, the new measure wins House approval, the Senate should proceed in the same spirit of respect for civil rights and pass a similar measure.

The fight for fair employment rights is already a generation old, pioneered in the House by two New York Democrats — Bella Abzug and Edward Koch. While a score of states have taken steps against bias suffered by gays and lesbians, a federal law is needed to fully guarantee workplace rights for millions of Americans. Congress must not duck this call to basic justice.

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