[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.]