To the editor:
Cathy & Jan - do the two of you have a legal agreement to deal with any of the issues such an agreement would provide both of you with any of the rights you so desire? If not why haven't you at least taken this step? A number of employers do make the rights you seek available to gay couples - have either or both of you looked into employment with them? Do your current employers (assuming you are both employed) offer you any of the benefits you are seeking? Do you have life insurance and have each other named as primary beneficiaries?
The above questions came from Rangeral who commented on our letter of June 11th, in the comment area of the Independent online.
Rangeral, you like many Minnesotans believe that committed same-sex couples and unmarried domestic partners can gain the rights and protections denied them by these discriminatory laws by signing legal documents and contracts. This simply is not true.
Even if couples are willing to go to the expense of obtaining legal counsel, most of the 515 rights and responsibilities automatically provided to married couples in Minnesota cannot be replicated by signing legal documents or contracts.
To directly answer your first question, yes, we do have legal agreements as do many same-sex couples in an attempt to protect and care for one another at least as much as Minnesota State law allows. Unfortunately, there are many stories of same-sex couples that have gone to great effort and expense only to be horrified by these very documents being completely ignored at a time of greatest need. Fortunately, we have not had to test our legal documents thus far. Here is just one example for you taken from the Project 515 website titled, "SOMETIMES PLANNING AND LEGAL WORK STILL AREN'T ENOUGH"
Tim Reardon is a prudent man. When he and his partner Eric decided to have a child through a surrogate, they made certain all the legal documents were in order. They already had a partnership agreement, executed before their commitment ceremony in 2001. They had drafted powers of attorney, health-care directives, and every document they could within the restrictions of the law to be certain their relationship to one another and their future children was clear and protected.
Yet when Tess was born in 2003, Tim and Eric waited for a year to get a Judge's order for a birth certificate because the state insisted on DNA testing for proof of paternity. The cost, both monetary and emotional, was enormous.
Adding to the emotional burden was a serious health challenge. Three months after Tess' birth, Eric was diagnosed with a brain tumor that later was determined to be malignant. The family life Tim and Eric had dreamed of was suddenly thrown into chaos. Tim and Eric returned to their attorney to be certain their paperwork was in order. It had become imperative that Tim was clearly named the person to "call the shots" upon Eric's death.
Four years later, when Eric was to go from the hospital to a hospice residence, a social worker collected a financial eligibility screening to determine if Eric was eligible for memorial funds to offset the cost of the hospice residence not covered by either insurance or Medicaid. The hospital business office wanted to include Tim's earnings in the calculation of "household income." "They wanted to recognize our relationship when it was financially in their best interest," Tim said. Tim refused. Yet when Eric died a short time later, Tim was informed that the medical examiner would not recognize Tim's relationship to Eric.
To make matters worse, the cremation society did not consider Tim next of kin, with the right to make decisions about Eric's remains even though Tim showed administrators a power-of-attorney document, a health-care directive and Eric's will all clearly naming Tim as the decision-maker. Only with the consent of Eric's mother and father was Tim ultimately allowed to sign the cremation society paperwork.
"I felt so violated and angry that at this most vulnerable moment of life, they would not acknowledge our relationship." Tim said. "All our planning didn't mean anything to these people. Eric's wishes didn't mean anything. This never would have happened to a legal spouse.
"All it takes is one challenge from a person with an issue or different belief system, and the cost to us, in money, time and emotions is enormous because we have no recourse in the legal system," Tim continued. "It is unconscionable that when personal decisions need to be made, no matter how much we have planned, we cannot legally make them because of who we love."
If Tim's personal story and so many more such stories of our friends and relatives are meant to be a test of our humanity and define us as a humane society (characterized by tenderness and compassion), in my opinion, we have sorely failed.
Yes, you are correct in that some companies do provide some form of Domestic Partner Health benefits. In fact, one of our employers does provide this benefit. As stated previously, unlike married couples, employees who do receive health coverage for their same sex partner must pay federal income taxes on the value of the insurance. Due to this and the fact that we both had coverage through our individual employers this was of no value to us.
At least 515 state statutes provide rights and assign responsibilities to couples based on marriage. As a result, these laws exclude domestic partners who aren't married, even if they have made lifelong commitments. Cathy and I have been in a lifelong commitment now for 32 years and would welcome the opportunity to have a civil marriage to gain the aforementioned rights and responsibilities. For gay and lesbian couples, of course, marriage isn't a legal option at this time.