Marriage, Justice & Compassion Denied

Talk to me all you want about why gradual social change is the better in the long run, but there’s not much of a chance I’ll buy it. It’s easy to say when you’re not the one needing the change to happen, but justice delayed is justice denied to someone. When it comes to couples like Laurel Hester and Stacey Andree, I think the alleged long-term virtues of gradualism will be pretty cold comfort.

When lung cancer finally kills Laurel Hester — and it will, in a matter of months — she wants to know that her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, won’t lose their home in Point Pleasant.

That legacy, however, is in doubt.

Ocean County’s freeholders have refused to act on a request from Hester, an investigator for 23 years in the county prosecutor’s office, to provide domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees under a state law enacted last year. Without a resolution by the freeholders, her pension benefits cannot go to Andree.

“That’s not what I hoped for with the legislation,” said Sen. John Adler (D-Camden), a prime sponsor. “It’s a missed opportunity for Ocean County to show that it respects families. … It’s a crummy, cold decision.”

The surviving spouse benefit amounts to about $13,000 a year and would be paid from the state pension fund. For Andree, an auto mechanic, the money would “mean the difference in whether or not she can stay in the house,” Hester said.

When the Legislature passed the Domestic Partners Act of 2004, it covered all state employees. The act also changed state law to permit — but not require — counties, cities and other local government entities to provide pension and health care benefits for domestic partners of their employees.

Lose your spouse, lose your house. It’s just another cost of being gay in America. I’ve seen stories like this before — the last one was about a similar dilemma facing Rene Price and Betty Jordan — and it never ceases to make my blood boil. Tell me that America needs to “hear our stories” before we can make any real progress on marriage equality, etc. In the meantime it means that “stories” like that of Hester and Andree will continue to happen, with little to no remedy available.

No marriage, no equality, no justice. And that Hester spend 23 years of her life working on behalf of justice in her community, only to have it denied to her and her spouse is simply the icing on the cake. Kinda makes you proud to be an American, don’ t it?

It scares and infuriates me how easily I could find myself in a similar situation, despite the legal documents, wills, etc. we’ve had drawn up. As I’m not a legally recognized spouse, should something happen to the hubby, I’d have no right to his pension, social security or anything else. I might get to keep the home we have together, but chances are I’d need the resources above to help me do it. As a non-spouse before the law, I wouldn’t get it. As an adopted child Parker might have a right to the above, and as his legal adoptive parent. parent I might be responsible for managing those resources for him, but at the moment I have more questions than answers on those possibilities.

Still, at the moment of your greatest loss, who needs to worry about that? And who on earth would choose to inflict that on someone already facing a tremendous loss?

At least one freeholder, John P. Kelly, the law and public safety chairman, has cited moral reservations, telling the Asbury Park Press it violates “the sanctity of marriage.”

Kelly declined to speak to The Star-Ledger, as did Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari. John Tomicki of the League of American Families, a state group that opposes domestic partner benefits, said the freeholders were doing exactly what state lawmakers intended when they passed the legislation.

“We understand the emotion of this, but the legal issue is very clear,” Tomicki said. “It’s their (the freeholders’) decision, which is what the law allows. They’re obviously reflecting the values of their community.” (emphasis added)

Of course. now it all makes sense. “They’re obviously reflecting the values of their community.” Maybe. I don’t know what kind of morality or values justify leaving someone vulnerable to homelessness after losing the most significant person in their lives — after losing a member of their family — but according to the article the only way to get the domestic partnership bill through was to accommodate just those kind of community “values,” thus creating a patchwork of of inequitably applied laws that leave families like Hester and Andree — families like mine — out in the cold.

It’s stories like this that make me look at America and ask “Why bother?”

As long as this kind of thing continues to happen to our families, don’t talk to me about “values” and how progressives have to speak the language of “values” to win over more conservative voters.. Don’t talk to me about “compassionate conservatism” because as far as I can see, it doesn’t exist. It isn’t anything more than a sigh, a shake of the head and maybe saying “ain’t that a shame.” It changes nothing. Don’t talk to me about how “party unity” has to come before petty issues like equality, fairness, and the like. Don’t talk to me about how it’s better to “go slow” on issues like this, and how that approach will yield greater benefits in the future.

This is happening to our families now. And the overall message stories like this one send amounts to this: if you’re gay or lesbian in America, you love at your own risk.

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About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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9 Responses to Marriage, Justice & Compassion Denied

  1. Julia says:

    I know what you mean.  It’s not the money, or the property.  It’s knowing that the person you choose to spend your life with is the one who will make decisions for you when you are unable.
    As a widow, I also know how important it is to know that you are taking care of the person you love.
     

  2. PhoenixRising says:

    Yeah, it kind of puts the accomodationist pile of crap known as ‘strategic advances through DP laws’ into the proper perspective…anything less than equality is going to be as good as the particular state or local agency feels that a particular family deserves.

    The reason we have laws…heck, the reason we have government…is so that it’s not a matter of the superstitions held dear by a majority of Andrea and Stacey’s neighbors when something goes unexpectedly.

  3. wanda says:

    You would think by now some smart, savvy attorney would have found a way to address this gaping inadequacy in our society.   I guess there’s just not enough money in it.  

  4. Steve says:

    Note I sent to CountyConnection@co.ocean.nj.us along with a picture of the freelosers five smiling faces…

    Nice smiles, guys!  Personally — As human beings, I think the five of you suck.  Not that I wouldn’t expect it from five "compassionate conservatives"…  And I love the "cost considerations" comment — Actually, it’s probably quite the cost savings for you, isn’t it?!?!  I thought even New Jersey would be better than that…  You make me embarrased to call myself your fellow human being.
     
    As for the "sanctity of marriage" — No offense, but I have little doubt that a few of you bastards are divorced…  Talk about "sancitity of marriage"…  You’re a farce.  There is a special place in hell for gentlemen like you…  And until you get there, Laurel Hester will be watching over you — And always remembering what you’ve done to her and a person she loves.  May something very similar happen to you and your loved ones…
     
    Sincerely,
     
    Steve

  5. Terrance says:

    May something very similar happen to you and your loved ones…

    Well, I’d stop short of wishing that king of suffering on anybody. Even these guys.

  6. Doug says:

    How did these people stay on officer for so long. I’m sure if one looks into there past they will uncover many inreresting things. I cant understand how the five of them can sit there and cast blam on the State. It is clearly defined by the state that the responsibility is up to the individuals governing body. If they have a hard time making that interpritation can you imagine what other mistakes have been made in Ocean County. I think that its time for the people of Ocean County to evaluate what is taking place within those chamber doors.

    This is not over and should Lt. Hester pass before the resolution is passed, understand that there are many others that will befend her honor, untill this is corrected…

    Its not going to go away… 

  7. johnozed says:

    I personally will boycott Ocean County and encourage my family and friends to do the same. And they’ll tell two friends and so on, and so on….
    This type of thinking makes me embarrased to say I live in and love New Jersey.

  8. Sherry says:

    Update – Saturday 1/20/06
    Freeholder’s change their minds!

    http://www.ocobserver.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060121/NEWS/601210315

    While this is encouraging, I hope they pass a comprehensive resolution, that gives all of the domestic partner benefits that the state allows, which includes health insurance for the partners of current county employees (among other things.)

  9. Ocean County Relents on Benefits for Hester and Others. See http://www.njdomesticpartnership.com/2006/01/ocean_county_re.html

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