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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, December 23, 2005

Point Pleasant?

Thanks Jay, for inviting me to guest post while you’re away. I’m usually writing about Wisconsin’s proposed constitutional ban on civil unions and marriage at No On the Amendment, but today I want write about something going on in New Jersey.

Because tonight, as I do every year for Christmas, I will head east to the lovely, ocean-side Point Pleasant, NJ with my partner where her family has lived for more than 40 years.

It is in fact, a pleasant point, and I always look forward to the quiet off-season atmosphere and the excellent seafood. But the last month in Point Pleasant hasn’t been so quiet, and rightfully so.

A woman named Laurel Hester is making as much noise as a person can who is dying of lung cancer. And hundreds of people from around the state are rallying to elevate her voice.

Last year Laurel, who worked in the county prosecutor’s office for 23 years, learned she had terminal cancer. So she approached the five elected “freeholders” (who manage the county) about changing the county rules so that she could leave her pension to her partner, Stacie Andree. Laurel was concerned that when she dies, without her pension Stacy may lose their home.

The county freeholders ignored her request for six months. And then they said no.

First they said no because they were offended by their same-sex relationship. Then they said no because they thought it would cost too much. And finally, they said no to the wheelchair-bound Laurel by escaping a meeting with her through a back door.

In Laurel’s favor, there have been meetings, protests, letter-writing campaigns, and phone calls. But Point Pleasant’s Ocean County won’t budge and are discarding letters and phone calls from out-of-county residents. A call for tourists to boycott the county is the only thing that has moved the freeholders to think a little harder about the issue.

One of the things gay-rights opponents like to throw out is that lesbian and gay couples are only interested in the “benefits” of marriage. You know, things like tax advantages, insurance breaks, property rights and pension benefits.

What they don’t care to think about is that committed lesbian and gay couples are also ready to-- and in fact, already do-- take on the responsibilities of marriage.

Helping your partner through the last months of her life can not be easy. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that Stacie takes Laurel to the doctor, helps feed and dress her, carries some of the burden of cancer, pays the bills, and works tirelessly to make Laurel’s last days comfortable. These are responsibilities. Big ones.

Stacie deserves the right to visit Laurel in the hospital. She deserves the right to determine how Laurel should be buried. And she most certainly deserves the right to Laurel’s pension—especially since Laurel so obviously wants it this way.

More of Laurel’s story can be found at biggaypicture.com. There is a three-part interview with her, and several articles about the case. It is in depth, it is sad, and it is infuriating. These kinds of stories are happening all over the country, and in Wisconsin. It’s ridiculous that gay and lesbian couples are denied the rights of marriage when they are clearly doing the work of marriage.

Not that defeating our proposed ban will make life any easier for couples with similar stories here in Wisconsin, but beating it will at least show that we have left room for compassion for our Laurels and Stacies.

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