From The National Center for Lesbian Rights: http://www.nclrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=blog_katesBlog082311
I cannot imagine the searing pain of losing a partner. I hope, of course, that I live my whole life never knowing such loss. In our work at NCLR, we have represented a number of men and women living through that almost unbearable tragedy, and in every case, their loss is compounded and the injury magnified by the fact that others or the government treat the couple as legal strangers.
In our 2001 case on behalf of Sharon Smith, the horror was unmatched. Sharon’s partner of seven years, Diane Alexis Whipple, was killed by massive dogs while trying to unlock the door of her San Francisco apartment. Her mauling, the grace and legal vulnerability of Sharon, and the stunning callousness of the dog owners captured headlines around the world, and illustrated a fact unknown to most people: couples in same-sex relationships routinely have our relationships ignored and disregarded by the law.
While Sharon was in the midst of unimaginable grieving, the State of California told her that because she and Alexis were not married, she had no right to hold the dog owners responsible for Alexis’s death. Insult compounded terrifying injury. NCLR represented Sharon in her wrongful death action, and the court ruled that she must be treated as a surviving spouse—a historic victory. But no victory, however historic, could erase either the loss or the added pain of having to fight so hard simply to be recognized as a loving, grieving partner.
Now, 10 years later, we represent Jennifer Tobits. Last September, Jennifer’s wife, Sarah Ellyn Farley, an accomplished and beloved lawyer and friend, died of a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Just four years earlier, the couple had married in Canada. Like Sharon, Jennifer now finds herself having to both grieve the loss of her loving spouse and fight to have their marriage respected and recognized. In this case, however, the insult of invisibility and denial is perpetuated not by the state, but by Ellyn’s own parents.
Ellyn’s parents never accepted their daughter for who she was, and her relationship with them had many ups and downs. They refused to attend Ellyn and Jennifer’s wedding celebration, instructing Ellyn to keep the celebration secret from other family members as well. As an adult, Ellyn’s body still bore visible scars from her father’s beatings of her with a belt—those beatings happened in Ellyn’s adolescence, a time when she was just beginning to express her identity. After she left for college, Ellyn built her life halfway across the country. Although she maintained contact with her parents, she kept them at arms’ length even while she was struggling with cancer. And as her illness grew worse, Ellyn began to fear that her parents would make things hard for Jennifer after she died. In an attempt to pacify her parents, and to protect Jennifer from the bullying Ellyn knew to expect, Ellyn made her parents the beneficiaries of her life insurance policy, worth almost half a million dollars. It turns out Ellyn was correct that her parents would make things difficult, and sadly wrong that they would be mollified by the insurance proceeds.
Continue reading at: http://www.nclrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=blog_katesBlog082311