Saturday, April 17, 2010

Greene Vs. Sonoma County....Why Marriage Equality Is Important

What would you do if, in your golden years, you found yourself suddenly without you life long partner or spouse? Now add to that, county officials swooping in to claim your home and belongings because they do not recognize your relationship as valid even though you drew up all those "iron clad" documents meant to protect against such events. Would you feel rage? Would fight to protect what is yours by right? Who would stand with you?

That is exactly what happened here in my home of Sonoma County to Clay Greene and his partner of 20 years Harold. When faced with a health crisis, the county swooped in, confined them both in separate nursing homes, assumed control of both of their finances, sold all their combined property, and surrendered their home back to the landlord. All the while trying to explain away their relationship to each other as "roommates", even though they all appropriate legal documents naming each other as beneficiaries should something happen to the other. All this resulting in Harolds death three months later leaving clay little more than memories of their life together. Their lives together where very nearly erased....and it happened in my back yard.


This horrific story was sent to our facebook page and my jaw dropped when I saw it. It  was just days ago that I was expressing happiness with my city for finally approving an LGBT retirement community and then along comes along this account of gross discrimination. This is a story of callous cruelty against two men who  thought they had their legal protections in place yet found those swept away as if they did not exist at all.

Full text from the National Center For Lesbian Rights Case docket:

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.

Words can not express the anger I feel at reading this. the way these men were treated was shamefull and I can't believe this occured in a county that traditionally is very accepting of gays and lesbians. As my husband expressed, "If we're not safe here, where can we be safe?" To which, I guess the answer is "nowhere". Only full legal rights could have stopped the events that happened to these two men.


Sonoma County is my home. It voted against Prop 8 by 68% of the population and has been recorded to have the highest population of gay couples raising children in the nation. It has always been a safe haven for Gay and Lesbian Californians second only to the city of San Francisco. I was utterly floored to see that this happened here. The last time I had heard of a story of this nature was the account of Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who had medical visitation denied them in a Florida hospital resulting in Lisa Pond dying alone without her partner or children at her side. At the time Lisa Pond was told not to expect any sympathy because she was in an "anti-gay state". Indeed, that story was so awfull I promised not to go to Florida again until they change their treatment of LGBT people. ...and now it has happened right here in my home.


Jay contacted Anne Dennis, the attorney representing Clay Greene, to see if there was any way we could help support his case. the attorney expressed her own outrage and explained that they had tried to get the story printed in our local paper, The Press Democrat, to which they have still recieved no answer. Immediately I thought, " Oh no, you don't go to the local paper with a story like this, you take it to the net." This story needs to be shouted from the rooftops. It needs to reverberate to every blog and website it can because what happened to these two men can happen to each of us.
 
There should be no gay or lesbian out there who reads this and thinks, "This can't happen to me". Thats just what these two men thought and it DID happen to them. I think they must have also felt some level of protection living in a county that normally normally considered a safe place for  gays and lesbians. Which to my mind, goes to show that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime when society is allowed to treat us as second class. Would this things have happened to Clay and Harold had the county workers been dealing with a legal marriage instead of Wills and Powers of Attorney....I doubt it greatly.


 
Many gay couples did not marry in California while the window of opportunity was open, Clay and Harold are only one example of those who didn't. Some believed their Civil Partnerships were enough legal protection. One Couple I know personally had their commitment ceremony more than a decade ago and felt as if that was enough for them. Still more couples where not ready to marry their partners yet, even though they considered the idea, knowing that the chance may not come around again. In short lots of gay Californians were left out of the narrow window of opportunity in which they could have legally wed.
 
Sean Chapin and yours truely took our outrage to Youtube:
 

 
As Sean Chapins video points out, anything less than full equality and full recognition leaves the door open enough that events like this can continue to happen. These two Gentlemen went to great pains to name each other as legal beneficiaries within their legal documents yet all it took was the change of a name from "partners" to "roommates" for a judge to o.k. what happened to these two men...thats the knife edge on which we stand.
 
In addition, Jay and I have heard a strong voice from within the gay community expressing the opinion that the struggle for marriage equality is in some way a selfish venture. They ask why we are fighting for the right to marry when Don't Ask Don't Tell(DADT) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act(ENDA) affect the gay community in much more practicle ways. Well folks...this is why....Clay and Harold can be you and me with just  the redifinition of the word that describes our relationships. As California Supreme Court Justice Kennard quiped during the trial over the validity of Proposition 8..."aren't we really just talking about a label?" No Mam...not when the label means this much. The label of marriage is more than a word, it is inseparable from the connotations and legal protections that the word "married" carries with our society. Clay and Harolds case demonstrates this through tragedy. Is this what it takes for people to understand this? Must every change begin through tragedy before we see its need?

As the video states we will continue to follow Clays story and plan on being present for the trial. I encourage everyone to show their support and to let it be known that these kinds of events can not happen under the cover of darkness. This is how you can help:

1. HELP SPREAD THE STORY! I have tried to get this story out to Pams House Blend with the intent of raising awarness. Please feel free to use this blog entry or our Youtube video to help get the story out there whether through your own words..or ours. Facebook it, twitter it, send it to any blog you can think of...but please share it.

2. Help contact our local paper, The Press Democrat, and let them know that they can not ignore this issue. You can find them:

      at their contact page or...

     Email the Executive Editor at:  catherine.barnett[@pressdemocrat.com

     Call the newsroom at: 1(800)675-5056

until next time dear readers...

19 comments:

  1. This is some serious F!@#$ up crap..

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  2. That's absolutely horrific. Definitely eye opening and scary.

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  3. Seriously, perhaps one of the most horrifying stories I have ever read. Just heart breaking!This is the type of story that gay marriage would prevent, I would posture that even the strongest opponent to gay marriage would agree that this is just wrong, no matter how you look at it.

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  4. What!! I can´t believe anything like this can happen now a days. Poor guys, when they really needed each other. I hope this story can be spread and read so people understand that this really happens. I did not think i did.
    I have also seen a lot of your videos on youtube and I must say I think I have fallen in love in your family. You are just great. Thank you for charing your life...I am sure you have influenced a lot of people. Both gay and straight...

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  5. This whole thing is just unimaginably cruel. I seriously can't believe our county is even capable of doing this.
    I'm definitely going to bring this up in my journalism class. My instructor knows at least someone in the Press Democrat...hell, we had to interview one of its journalists.

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  6. That's a very sad story... but one that I believe could happen just about anywhere in the US. Unfortunately, it seems you guys in the US are gonna have to fight for a long time to come I think. I've seen an incredible amount of absolute foolishness towards the gay community that it looks to me like anti-gay sentiment in the US is too deeply engrained to just disappear any time soon.

    I've also heard complaints that your president is not backing you up as much as you'd like. I think if your country were to change overnight, and make gay marriage legal suddenly, the resulting backlash of protests would tear it in two, Be patient. I think he IS on your side, but Obama can only do so much without being assassinated or throwing your country into chaos. Change is sometimes painfully gradual.

    Don't stop fighting the good fight though.

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  7. I'm on my phone now so I don't remember the exact name of the facebook page but it's there and growing. Justice for Clay Greene and Harold of Ronoma county, I believe.

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  8. Obviously I meant Sonoma.

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  9. I grew up in Sebastopol, a city which elected a Green Party majority to its city council (after I moved away to the relatively conservative - heh - city of Berkeley). I'm shocked by this -- but especially by it happening in Sonoma County. There are certainly very conservative areas in the county. It's a big county. Any idea which city -- or was it in one of the unincorporated areas?

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  10. Just so y'all know... I am a conservative Christian Republican originally from Dallas, Texas and now living in Michigan. I am NOT conservative in issues regarding gay rights, because, quite frankly, I don't think it's any of my business who someone loves, that love between two consenting adults is a beautiful thing regardless of gender, and lastly... this story made me cry my eyes out. When a conservative Republican Christian who voted for McCain thinks this story is horrendous... that should tell you something, right? I have written to Sonoma County with my expressions of disgust, letting them know that our extended vacation to beautiful California this year will NOT be setting foot (or dollar) in Sonoma County. Disgusting. I am all for gay marriage, and I hope y'all get rights soon.... As a happily married woman who knows pretty much nothing about being gay but a LOT about being in lobe, my heart breaks for you who are experiencing this kind of separation based on bigotry. :(

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  11. Hey guys,

    I have been really upset about these old timers. And their story has been haunting me all weekend. I have told all the members of my family. I have repeated the story on Facebook twice. I have posted the story and links to Rachel Maddow and others. And now, I am seeing people reposting to story to me, to their walls to sites. You wait. It is going to happen.

    You were right, we don't need their help. Get our community together on the internet and we will get this message out to the masses and the press.

    FREEDOM!!!!!

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  12. I saw this on Sean's channel already. I am disgusted by it.

    Cruelty. That's it put simply.

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  13. On gay marriage being selfish- most of the objections I've seen are from people for whom gay marriage isn't the solution. Here's a post about it:
    http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/marriage-bandage/

    It has nothing to do with DADT or ENDA but why ALL MARRIAGE is a half-arsed solution to a serious proble.

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  14. I would be so upset about that if they did it to me. That was so wrong to do that to them.

    Great Job on BLOG Bryan and well done on the video you did. thank you for the update.

    your friend!!!

    JOJO!!!

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  15. If there was a Domestic Violence issue the police would have had to under law arrested the perpetrator. They are lying. They have to arrest the abuser even under a mere suspicion. They are lying. They didn't arrest they just took him to another rest home. This is ridiculous. Call them out on their lies.

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  16. it does raise some questions though...the story that the county tells is that Harold was hospitalized because of domestic abuse on the part of clay. In order for it to be domestic abuse, then you have to acknowledge an intimate relationship of some sort yet they described them in court as "roommates". What roommates would have a fight labeled domestic violence? Hell no...one or both would get carted off to jail for assault or similar charges...not domestic violence.

    and furthermore...they claimed that selling ALL their worldly possesions was to "pay for their care" Um...what straight couple would have all their possesions sold off..even if one was responsible for domestic abuse? AND clay was in good health according to the article...why would he require care?

    too many questions they have not adequately answered

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  17. Excellent post and the community WILL NOT let it go. It must be posted again and again up to and through the trail set in July. We are two seniors living in Sonoma County and here is our take on it: http://adgitadiaries.blog-city.com/stasi_in_america_green_vs_sonoma_county_et_al.htm
    peace, MandT

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  18. Clay Greene has passed away this morning at a care facility in Santa Rosa at the age of 83, as one of his caregivers for 5 years I'm going to miss him, he was family to me.

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