THIS is what we should call 'gay marriage'

by CynthiaYockey on April 13, 2009

When I wrote last week about my joy over the court decision that allows lesbians and gays to have same-sex marriages in Iowa, near the end of the post I pointed out that our healthcare system is a far bigger threat to marrriage right now than gay marriage, which is totally not a threat to marriage no matter what.

To my delight, my very dear friend, Little Miss Attila (go there, look right for the “Quote of the Month,” sent over an estate attorney named Hans Carlson who agrees — at least about my point that our healthcare system is the biggest threat to marriage in the U.S. right now.

Mr. Carlson wrote his comment to “Now it’s safe for me to move to Iowa” in my”About me” post and I am giving it its own unique post because of an idea that popped into my head as I wrote my reply, which I have helpfully emphasized for your reading convenience by putting my proposal in red, bold-faced type:

Dear Ms. Yockey,
Directed to your blog from Little Miss Attila, and read your entry regarding the imperative need for estate planning under the looming specter of nursing home costs, as a possible downside of marriage, whether gay or straight. Excellent, excellent point! I am a (nearly) 60-year old estate planning attorney. Regardless of orientation, marriage might not be the best option for middle-age or older folks who aren’t very well-t0-do. Don’t run to Iowa or Vermont and get married without seeing a lawyer. Totally lacks romance, I know, but you still gave GREAT advice.

— Hans Carlson, Jackson, Minnesota

Hans,

Thank you! It’s wonderful to have an expert validate that point!

I am planning to write more about this in the future to teach people what the issues are, how to educate themselves about the regulations and how to work with their doctors and lawyer to plan for their senior years and end-of-life care. Who knows? “Gay marriage” may become the popular name for the collection of legal documents lesbians and gays now have to use to approximate the rights of legal marriage.

When very pious, religious couples have to divorce for financial reasons so that the community spouse (i.e., the one who doesn’t need long-term nursing home care) will be financially able to stay in his or her home and live independently, it breaks their hearts and shatters their sense of morality. If they can divorce and call their new legal arrangement a “gay marriage,” I wonder if that would feel a little bit better. After all, as lesbians and gays we are fighting for “marriage,” not “gay marriage.” If you ask your clients who are forced into this choice whether calling their new status a “gay marriage” would make them feel better — and help people understand instantly what they had to do — I hope you come back and comment and let me know.

Cynthia

Really, people, the first wave of baby boomers are in their sixties now and this tidal wave is on the horizon. Estate and tax attorneys and CPAs already are telling couples over 60 that it is — not “may be,” but IS — in their financial best interest to divorce so that the healthier spouse is not destroyed by the longterm healthcare required by the other spouse.

It’s got to be heartbreaking and embarrassing for a couple  to have to give the long explanation of why they divorced despite still being devoted to one another and totally married emotionally. Let’s use the term “gay marriage” to mean the conglomeration of legal agreements that lesbians and gays now have to use as a substitute for being married legally. THEN all the couple has to say is, “Now we have a gay marriage,” and everybody knows what they had to do and why and that they are still in their hearts married. Lesbians and gays get to have “marriage.” Everybody wins.

You’re welcome.

P.S.

What say you, dear esteemed law professor and Blogospheric Neologian?

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  • Maybe this sounds a little strange, but can’t their kids take care of them? I mean, I ain’t a lawyer or accountant or medical professional or anything like that, but if my parents said “we’re going to divorce because your father is too sick” I’m pretty sure me and my brothers would stay “hell no, don’t worry, we’ll pay for it”. Granted, there’s three of us, so we can pool the cost between us, but still…

    • Elena,

      Not everyone is fortunate enough to have children who could and would take care of them.

      To be eligible for nursing home care means you have become unable to do several major activities of daily living by yourself. “Activities of daily living” (ADLs) is both a medical and a legal term and the activities are defined. ADLs include bathing, shaving, brushing your teeth, going to the toilet, preparing food and feeding yourself. Someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s may be physically strong and able to walk but unable to speak or remember where they are and need assistance with ADLs. For one person to care for a loved one in this situation 24/7/365 is exhausting and isolating. It also makes great demands on the family. Watch the movie Iris with Kate Winslet and Judy Dench both playing the title role to see what it is like.

      I learned about these issues in order to care for my late life partner, Margaret Ardussi, who had multiple sclerosis and was paralyzed for the last 12 years of her life, which made her eligible for nursing home care. I was joyful about devoting my life to her so she could stay with me in our home, but not everyone has the temperament and support from family and friends to manage it. And our health system does require the couple to be financially wiped out before the spouse needing longterm nursing home care becomes eligible for Medicaid, which is the program that covers nursing home care for the poor and people with disabilities who cannot work.

      See if your parents have consulted an attorney who is an expert in estate planning and taxes in order have a plan in place in case one of them requires nursing home care. I am not kidding at all when I’m telling you that they may be advised to divorce. But since they are fortunate enough to have three children who would care for them, now is the time for your family to plan what you will do if or when your parents can’t live independently any more. For example, one of you may want to add a room and bathroom that are wheelchair accessible and do other home renovations in order to be prepared.

      Cynthia

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