Monday, August 22, 2011

Why gay marriage is needed

In the aftermath of the tragic stage canopy collapse at the Indiana State Fair, we are witnessing the first of the inevitable lawsuits.  One out of northwest Indiana is most interesting:

Beth Urschel had turned to look at the approaching rainstorm when she heard screaming and looked as the stage in front of her collapsed on top of her and her life partner, Tammy VanDam.

Urschel described the events of Aug. 13 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis during a news conference in Valparaiso lawyer Kenneth Allen's office Friday. The conference was held shortly after Allen filed civil lawsuits on behalf of VanDam, who was killed, and Urschel, both of Wanatah.

"I saw the stage falling," Urschel said from her wheelchair. "Where do you run? Where do you go to survive?"

The couple had front-row seats for a Sugarland concert, which Urschel said was VanDam's favorite group.

"We were wondering why Sugarland was not coming out," she said. "We knew it was going to rain. You could see it coming, but what's a little rain?"

She had a toe severed and another crushed. Doctors reattached the one and both were reconstructed. She also has a broken clavicle, bruises over much of her body, the flesh was torn from her right arm and she has possible internal injuries. Asked how she felt, she said, "I feel so bad I could throw up I hurt so much."

Urschel, 49, said she and VanDam, 42, met in 1999 and were married in Hawaii in 2001 or 2002. Although the marriage is not recognized in Indiana, Allen said he probably will challenge that in court so she would be able to be recognized as any other spouse.

"We had so many plans and things we wanted to do," she said.
Gary Welsh reports that, "Allen told reporters at a press conference yesterday that he intends to challenge Indiana's wrongful death statute, which does not permit surviving same-sex partners to recover for the loss of their spouse."  Welsh adds this bit of legal analysis concerning same-sex marriage:

It's not clear how VanDam and Urschel could have been married in Hawaii because Hawaii has never permitted same-sex marriages. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state's marriage law was unconstitutional insofar as it failed to recognize same-sex marriages; however, voters later approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 that expressly gave the legislature the power to ban same-sex marriages. A law passed earlier this year will legalize the recognition of same-sex civil unions but not marriages entered into in Hawaii beginning next year. There are presently only six states that recognize same-sex marriages, including Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. Indiana passes its Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which bars the recognition of same-sex marriages. VanDam is survived by a 17-year-old daughter, who does qualify to pursue a claim for the loss of her mother under Indiana's wrongful death statute.
I think Welsh has a point here.  I've known a number of same-sex couples who say they are married -- some have referred specifically to Hawaii, actually -- but I'm not sure how that translates into Indiana.

Regardless of the law, I think it highlights the need for gay marriage or civil unions.  For all the hot air about how the homosexual community is just trying to "cheapen" marriage by, uh, joining in it (not sure of the logic of that argument), the real issue is the legal protections offered by marriage.  Spouses get visitation rights in hospitals, intestacy, certain powers of attorney, death benefits, tax protections, certain estate rights, etc.  While the homosexual community certainly wants societal acceptance if not support, what they really want are the same legal rights and responsibilities offered to heterosexual couples.

And, frankly, I don't have a problem with that.

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