HRC Blog

Elderly Gay Couple Split, Possessions Sold by California County

This post contributed by HRC Legal Assistant Rebekah DeHaven: California has very strong legal protections for LGBT people and couples.  Arguably, its laws provide some of the strongest protections of any state in the country.  However, laws are only as strong as their enforcement and, sadly, a recent case from Sonoma County, California, exemplifies this distinction. Clay, 77, and Harold, 88, were a couple of 20 years.  They had taken all of the necessary precautions to ensure that their relationship would be recognized in the event that something happened to one of them.  They had wills, powers of attorney and medical directives, all naming each other. One evening, Harold fell down the steps of their home.  The precautions that the couple took should have been more than sufficient to ensure that Clay would be able to see Harold and make medical decisions on his behalf.  Instead, the hospital refused to let Clay see Harold, and a judge determined that Clay was merely a “roommate.” The county proceeded to take Clay and Harold’s home and auction off their possessions, confining Clay to a nursing home against his will.  The county then ended Clay and Harold’s lease and surrendered their house. Three months later, Harold died, unable to spend his last months with Clay.  With the help of a court-appointed attorney, Anne Dennis, Clay was finally released from the nursing home into which he had been involuntarily committed.  Upon release, the only remaining possession Clay had from his life with Harold was a photo album that Harold carefully crafted during his last months. Now, Clay is pursuing a lawsuit against Sonoma County, the auction company and the nursing home with the representation of Ms. Dennis, Stephen O'Neill and Margaret Flynn of Tarkington, O'Neill, Barrack & Chong, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). A trial date has been set for July 16, 2010 in the Superior Court for the County of Sonoma.

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