Old and Leading the Way
Hope and Fear

New Laws Help LGBT Elders

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

The first week of a new year usually brings a spate of newspaper articles about new laws that that have gone into effect. Imagine my surprise at learning about a couple of good ones for lesbian and gay elders.

In California, the state will now require "licensed health care professionals" to undergo "diversity training" meant to "prevent bias in senior care facilities and nursing homes."

I guess that means they are going to expose doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and the like to the idea that same sex partners might expect to live in the same senior facilities together and have the right to visit each other.

Nationally, President Bush has signed the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (WRERA) which will protect domestic partners who inherit retirement savings.

Previous pension legislation made it optional for employers to write their plans so that "non-spousal" beneficiaries could roll inherited retirement benefits directly to an individual retirement account and avoid immediate taxation. WRERA means that if employers have any such pension plan, they must provide the rollover without penalty.

Small potatoes you may be thinking. How many elders are lucky enough to have a pension these days - or able to afford choices about "senior care facilities"?

And you are right. What these laws illustrate for me is why so much of the LGBT community is agitated about winning full, legal marriage rights.

Marriage is a relationship between people, but it is also a status that comes with a huge body of law. Because we have a precedent-based legal system, just about any human interaction under the sun has been litigated at some time. Laws and precedents have been created that make marriage's implications at least somewhat predictable.

When same sex couples can't marry, all those precedents either don't fit or are up for grabs. Literally thousands of minor legal corrections, like those explained above, have to be made to approximate equal status. And civil unions haven't proved very good at doing the same job.

A New Jersey state review commission concluded in December that

"After eighteen public meetings, 26 hours of oral testimony and hundreds of pages of written submission from more than 150 witnesses, this Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children," read the first paragraph of its report.

I'll be honest here - I never thought I'd be putting energy in to campaigning for gay marriage. But it really does look as if winning the option for all would be the simplest way to ensure equality for all - and good for children, young people, and elders.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton Sandy Davis gives us a strong example of Perseverence.]


It’s difficult to jump in here Jan when you are of somewhat opposite opinions on the subject issue but certainly your thoughts and opinions deserve acknowledgement. With regard to my response, I will tend to use the term ‘Gay & Lesbian Community” since the term “LBGT” is a little to over-inclusive for my taste, or perhaps my understanding.

I know what the intent is in the argument of ‘equal rights’ in this issue. It is to simply dissolve ‘any difference’ between two individuals of the opposite sex being married and two people of the same sex being married. But there is a difference, a huge difference, and that can never be changed. People of the same sex cannot engage in sexual intercourse for the purpose of procreating. That is and always has been the primary legal foundation of and purpose for the ‘marriage' law. And I can only guess how tired the Gay & Lesbian Community is of hearing that reasoning! Nevertheless…..

Marriage is what it is and has always been but….I am sure it will continue to be debated in these days and times until ‘Hell’ freezes over. However, I have always been and always will be a strong supporter of ‘civil unions’ and I can see no reason for anyone to object to such a law. If there are, as you say, issues and provisions in a Civil Union law that are objectionable to the Gay & Lesbian Community, then it seems to me that their energies and efforts should be spent working on resolving those issues rather than trying to make some overall infringement into a completely different law that has nothing to do whatsoever with same-sex relationships.

This obsession with having a same-sex union fall under the ‘marriage’ law is a bit like automobile owners wanting to come under the same jurisdiction of laws overseeing airplanes because they both run on gasoline. I have no personal objections at all with regard to relationships between two people of the same sex. In addition, with regard to the specifics of their relationship, I am not the least interested in whether it is platonic or otherwise.

We all know the “salt in the wound” with regard to this whole issue is the sexual relationship of same-sex partners. Civil Union laws can easily cover every legal aspect of same-sex unions but that is not good enough apparently for the majority of the Gay & Lesbian Community. Until they get approval and sanction under the marriage law which, by default, condones the sexual aspects of these unions, they will not be satisfied, regardless of the continued rhetoric that would lead one to believe otherwise.

I disagree with Alan. If a religious sect or denomination wishes to deny the rite of marriage to gay and lesbians that is their privledge. However, to deny the civil union of marriage to a gay or lesbian couple is to take away their rights under the law.

Many hetrosexual couples do not have children by choice. Should we deny them a marriage license because they do not wish to procreate?

Many gay and lesbian couples are wonderful parents and raise well adjusted children. Should we deny those children the right to have a stable home with married parents?

I appreciate Alan saying what he believes, because we all need to be able to say what we believe.

To anyone who thinks that marriage has always meant ANY particular social relationship, I highly recommend Stephanie Coontz' book, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.

Until I read this book, I thought marriage was mostly about paternity and property. It has at various times been about those things -- and of course, love -- but what I really learned from this survey of the history of the institution is that marriage has taken a myriad of meanings, many of which I had never thought of. There's a people in China, for example, who make the bond between siblings the critical, lifelong bond -- children are brought into the family by casual sex outside the sibling unions!

Marriage in the human history is and has been what societies make it. The push for LGBT civil marriages is actually not very radical -- we're not trying to change the way our culture has shaped the institution. We're in favor of fidelity, mutual care, and responsibility to each other and society. We just want to make those bonds with the people we're drawn to love.

All of us old people had best hurry up and divorce since we are no longer capable of procreating. What balderdash! I agree that the state should get out of the marriage business and leave it to whoever else cares; but, we have to start from where we are. Surely, we can do things more simply than to come up with a whole new set of laws for civil unions.
BTW: I prefer unions that can produce no offspring, given the crises that continue to be attendant to our huge (and growing) world population.

Morning….. :)

I was so pleased to return this morning and see the pleasant exchanges. I had visions as I slept last night of being reincarnated as George Custer and after first arriving at Little Big Horn, staring out over the desolate and windy plains in bewilderment……then uttering those most famous words, “What Indians? I don’t see any Indians!”

I would like to respond to Darlene if only to clarify with regard to my opinions and beliefs on the marriage law issue. I can assure you that my comments were totally devoid of religious oversight of any measure. I do live in the Bible Belt and I am acutely aware that religious beliefs drive the mainstream objections on this issue. But for me personally, it is and always has been a matter of “biology”! Some things don’t require a belief system.

And also Darlene, I especially understand your point as well as Jan’s with regard to the lack of procreation in various heterosexual marriages. In fact, we all know that heterosexuals marry for numerous reasons to include avoiding immigration laws, financial reasons, numerous reason involving legalities, family issues, etc, none of which involves procreation. So as with anything, there are those who use any statute to their own purpose and benefit. The ‘marriage law’ does not require procreating, it’s simply societies way of sanctioning it.

Here in Arkansas, where I am a resident, the Gay & Lesbian Community was dealt a large blow in the November election when the voters “rejected” an amendment allowing unmarried partners to participate in the foster care program. And the lack of foster parents is a huge problem here in this State. Talk about the voters shooting themselves in the foot! For the record, I supported that amendment. But I also believe, right or wrong, that if the Gay & Lesbian Community would have had in place a substantial and inclusive Civil Union law, the amendment would have easily passed.

I do support the Gay & Lesbian Community in their efforts to participate in our society as equals in all regards. I am and always have been open to change, although on the marriage issue I see little room for wiggle at this point. I will advocate 100% for a strong Civil Union law for our gay and lesbian citizens, but will hold firm on reserving the ‘marriage’ law at this point for heterosexuals.

And Jan, thanks for your response and I will respond to your reading recommendation. In fact, it sounds very interesting.

"I do support the Gay & Lesbian Community in their efforts to participate in our society as equals in all regards."
Alan, how are we equal if we are not allowed to marry? Requiring two sets of laws to cover the same issues is equal?

I honor your right to have and state your opinion. Your words, however, do not feel supportive; just more of the separate-but-equal stuff that so plagued us all in the past.

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