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Katrina Delivers Second Blow To Gay Families


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Katrina Delivers Second Blow To Gay Families

by Fidel Ortega 365Gay.com Miami Bureau

Posted: September 1, 2005 5:00 pm ET

(Dallas, Texas) Recovering from the devastation of hurricane Katrina may be particularly difficult for same-sex couples who are not recognized in any of the three states directly hit by the storm or in those states where refugees have fled.

Louisiana has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and prevents the state from recognizing any legal status for common-law relationships, domestic partnerships or civil unions. Mississippi and Alabama both have defense of marriage acts which also deny rights to gay and lesbian couples.

The Federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents FEMA from providing any relief in the form of family benefits to same-sex couples.

The laws also will directly impact gay and lesbian families where one partner has died as a result of the hurricane.

Federal DOMA bars Social Security survivor benefits. State benefits would also be denied.

If the deceased partner were the birth or adoptive parent of the couple's children those children could be removed from the care of the other parent and placed in foster care.

Should the family home be in the name of the deceased partner the survivor would have no rights. Any insurance payouts could go to the estate of the deceased and if there is no will would go to the closest blood relative.

In cases where one partner is hospitalized the other partner would not be guaranteed visitation rights or any say in medical care.

Surviving same-sex partners even could be denied any say in funeral or burial decisions.

Even in those cases where couples had legal documents such as living wills, powers of attorney or other agreements that could be valid in the states in which they were prepared and notarized there is no guarantee they would be honored in states where survivors were relocated.

"It underscores all of the inequities same-sex couples face," Lambda Legal attorney Ken Upton told 365Gay.com.

Upton is the director of Lambda's office in Dallas, the closest major city to the disaster zone where the organization has a legal office.

Most of the evacuees from the New Orleans area are being relocated to Texas, primarily in the Houston area. Upton said that in the coming weeks he expects to hear from many same-sex couples who are encountering legal problems.

"It's hard at times like these for marginalized groups - particularly gays and lesbians - to be part of the bigger American picture," Updton said.

Two relief organizations are recognizing same-sex families: the American Red Cross and the Rainbow Fund.

The Red Cross was the first major aid agency to help gay and lesbian couples in the immediate aftermath of 9-11.

The Rainbow Fund is an LGBT San Francisco-based relief agency that allows gays and lesbians to see exactly where their money is going and allows the world to see the impact the greater gay community plays in providing aid.

In the case of hurricane Katrina the Fund is working with America's Second Harvest to help the survivors. All money given to the fund goes directly to relief efforts. It does not use any donations to maintain its organization.

365Gay.com has set up a special resource page with links to the Rainbow Fund, Red Cross, Lambda Legal and other aid agencies.

Meanwhile, the situation in New Orleans continued to worsen on Thursday. Hundreds of bodies have been found and the city has descended into anarchy.

Looting continued and sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout New Orleans. Police say they are powerless.

Sewage and chemicals are mixed in the water that still covers the city and there are mounting concerns of a massive health epidemic spreading among those still trapped.

©365Gay.com 2005


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