I’ll sum this up for you. Two men, Harold and Clay, lived together for 20 years in Sonoma County, CA, they took extreme care to make sure they had legal protections in place so that they could take care of one another. Instead, when Harold fell, the county and healthcare workers ignored all the legal paperwork and refused to let Clay see him, refused to let Clay dictate the medical treatment, they forcibly removed Clay from their home and put him in a separate nursing home from Harold, against his will, and finally they took all of their belongings from that home and auctioned them off. Harold died alone three months later. Clay was finally able to get an attorney to get him out of the nursing home, but his home and all of his belongings were gone.
All of this in a county in California that voted 68% against Prop 8 — this is a place with support for marriage equality that still did this to a gay couple. People don’t understand that this isn’t just a fight for a word, this is a fight for adults wanting to be treated as adults, capable of choosing who is important to them and who has a say in their lives. This is about incredibly basic human decency that gay people are denied. People think, oh stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore.
Yes, it does. And it’s inhumane and disgusting and cruel. And when you don’t support gay marriage, what you’re saying is “I want this to happen to people. I don’t think gay people deserve to be treated like humans, they aren’t human as far as I’m concerned. It’s not enough for them to live their lives away from me, I want them to suffer.” Every single organization, every single politician, every single person who supports the ban on gay marriage is tacitly endorsing this abuse.
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.