The plaintiff, Clay Greene claims that he was forcibly separated from Harold Scull, his partner of twenty-five years, with whom he had made a home for twenty, and with whom he was still deeply in love. Greene he was put into a nursing home he had no need to be in, denied hospital visitation rights, had his partner’s medical power of attorney ignored and had their mutual possessions taken and sold at auction. All because Sonoma County would not recognize that he and his male lover were, in fact, a couple and chose to dismiss the other man as a mere “roommate”.
On the other hand, I have to wonder why they never registered as domestic partners or got married when they had a chance to do so. In its defense, Sonoma County says that the two had been involved in a domestic violence situation which is why they were separated.
I’m not exactly sure what to think about the County’s defense. I suppose that yes, a domestic violence situation could arise between a 75-year-old man and an 85-year-old man. All couples quarrel from time to time and I guess for some of them such things escalate into violence. This is alien to my experience but I must concede that it does happen and I’ve no reason, one way or the other, to know if Greene and Scull were in such a situation. It seems so unlikely to me that even if the two men had been arguing, it would have resulted in blows so serious as to need hospitalization — at least, not without the use of weapons, and had weapons been used, well, Scull would quite likely have been dead.
Moreover, other couples in domestic violence situations don’t wind up with all their possessions being seized and auctioned off. And old folks do fall, and get hurt badly when they do, in ways that younger folks recover from quickly. If Greene is telling the truth, that Scull fell and whatever it was Scull said in the hospital was a result of being dazed from the fall, it seems like the County of Sonoma went way overboard.
Now, these men weren’t registered domestic partners, although if the plaintiff’s version of facts is to be believed, that scarcely would have mattered. Indeed, if hostility to gay men were motivating official actions, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had been married.
Still, these men should have been able to get married and the rest of the world shouldn’t have cared that they were men. Maybe they would have had a happy, peaceful marriage. Maybe their marriage would have been unhappy and marred by episodes of violence. Who knows? Who can ever know? They seemed to have a fairly happy co-existence for most of their time together.
Greene should have been able to visit Scull in the hospital. The state and the doctors should have recognized and deferred to the medical power of attorney that Scull had executed to allow Greene to make decisions. Regardless of the legal formalities, there should have been some compassion and recognition of a lengthy relationship. If there were real fears about violence, someone could have watched Greene during the visitations. And frankly, if it had been a man accused of beating up his wife, he’d have been allowed to visit her in the hospital — maybe with a chaperone, but likely not.
What happened to Greene when his partner Scull was hurt is what will happen eventually to one-half of all people in long-term relationships. Everyone dies. When you choose to live your life with someone, you choose a fifty-fifty chance of having to care for them on their way out of life and into death and to take care of things after they’re gone. That’s part of what you signed up for. Maybe you’re older than your partner or in bad health, but you can’t know who will die first. There are auto accidents, strokes, who knows what will happen. Any of us can go at any time; that is one reason we couple up together. A loved one’s impending death must surely be a truly awful time, a time of grief and fear and despair — but it is also a time for compassion and love and support from other loved ones and, at minimum, a time for the government to keep its big nose out of private citizens’ business. These two should have had that. Every couple should, for both of their benefits and indeed, for the benefit of society as a whole.
Which is yet another reason why we Californians have a moral imperative to repeal Proposition 8.