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ACLU/NYCLU File Lawsuit Seeking Marriage Equality For Same-Sex Couples In New York State

April 7, 2004 About the Plaintiffs Sylvia Samuels and Diane Gallagher Diane, 53, is a high school social studies teacher in New York City and Sylvia, 54, worked in information technology until she had to quit her job because she’s too ill to work. They live in Mount Vernon and have been together for 24 years. Together they raised Sylvia’s two children, who are now adults, from the ages of four and six, and they have three grandchildren. Sylvia and Diane know all too well what can happen to same-sex couples in hospitals because they are unable to be married. In 2000, Sylvia was in a bicycle accident in North Carolina. As she lay unconscious in the ER, the doctors refused to let Diane see her because they said she didn’t “look like” she could be related to Sylvia. The experience still haunts them. Today, Sylvia has cancer and is on a waiting list for a liver transplant she needs to survive. Fortunately, Sylvia has domestic partner health insurance through Diane’s employer, but if they lived anywhere else, this might not be the case. Without the transplant, she has less than two years to live. Sylvia and Diane want to be sure that what happened to them in North Carolina does not happen again. As they face the certainty of spending much of their future in hospitals and the possibility of death, they want to be sure that Diane is recognized as family. They want the respect they would get as a married couple. Sylvia wants spousal protections for Diane in the event that something happens to her. Diane wants Sylvia to continue to be covered under her health insurance, no matter where she works. And Sylvia and Diane’s adult children and grandchildren very much want to see them get married. Heather McDonnell and Carol Snyder Heather, 50, is an administrator at Sarah Lawrence College, and Carol, 59, is a teacher in New York City. Together 14 years, they live in White Plains. Carol has two adult daughters, who lived with them while they were in college, and Heather also has a daughter who lived with them until she was 18. Carol survived breast cancer 11 years ago. The couple purposefully sought out a surgeon who was gay-friendly, but the nurses and other staff constantly challenged Heather during Carol’s hospital stay. They would tell her she was staying too long even though the doctor had said she could stay as long as she wanted. They repeatedly demanded to know who she was, saying things like, “Who are you? Why are you here? Are you her sister?” All of this was happening just after they’d found out that Carol had stage two cancer, making her ordeal even more upsetting. After that experience, they registered as domestic partners and signed health proxies for each other. Even with these legal documents, Heather had to assert herself once again in January 2003 when Carol had a cardiac event following a bad reaction to medication. At one point as Carol’s vital signs were crashing, the doctor who was working to save her told Heather to keep talking to her and help hold her down because Carol would respond to her better than anyone else. Afterwards a nurse who had been present as the doctor worked to save Carol’s life tried to make Heather leave Carol’s hospital room. When Heather pointed out that she was Carol’s health care proxy, the nurse demanded, “Who are you?” Amy Tripi and Jeanne Vitale Amy, 37, is a nonprofit fundraiser and Jeanne, 41, is a video editor. They’ve been together for seven years. They first met through friends 10 years ago. Amy and Jeanne registered as domestic partners in New York City in February of 2001 and moved to Highland almost three years ago. Amy is almost five months pregnant with the couple’s first child. Since they’re both self-employed, she and Jeanne both have individual health insurance. Amy estimates that after the baby is born their family health insurance will cost them almost $2000 a year more than it would if they were married. Below is an excerpt from the email Jeanne sent out to the couple’s friends to announce the wedding they had hoped to have in New Paltz until the mayor was forced to stop performing them last month.

…I want to be equal under the law. I want to be married to Amy and spend the rest of my life with her. After seven years together, we already know we’re married in our hearts, but to be able to get married for real… has meant more to us than we realized. In terms of me personally, well, it’s kind of like standing up and saying to the world that my love is real and valid and true and a gift from God and I am prouder of my relationship with Amy than I am of anything else in my whole life. It is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s nothing to hide and it is not less than anyone else’s love. Love is love.

Wade O. Nichols and Francis Shen Wade, 34, and Francis, 36, are a binational couple – Wade is from the United States and Francis is from Taiwan. They’ve been together for five years. Francis teaches theater arts classes at a university and an arts high school in Taiwan and Wade is a graduate student in education at Columbia and trains English teachers who work in Asia. The couple celebrated their commitment in Taipei in a large public ceremony with 100 friends, coworkers, and family members two years ago. Because of immigration laws, Francis can’t stay long term in the U.S. and Wade can’t stay long term in Taiwan without work sponsorship. Not being able to live together in the same country has been very difficult for Wade and Francis. Usually they live in Taiwan because it’s easier for Wade to get work sponsorship there than it is for Francis to get such sponsorship here. Right now, though, Wade is working on an advanced degree at Columbia University, so the couple is forced to live apart except for short visits from Francis on tourist visas. Wade feels he has no choice but to sell a home he bought before meeting Francis, because they can’t live there together and Wade can’t look after it when he’s in Taiwan. And recently Wade suffered a death in the family, but was unable to be with his family to offer support because he was in Taiwan at the time. Michael Hahn and Paul Muhonen Michael, 39, and Paul, 44, have been together for 22 years and live in Binghamton. They met while working one summer at Yellowstone National Park. Michael for a local bank and Paul is a hotel/restaurant manager. Paul does not have health insurance through his job, and Michael’s employer doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits. When Paul relocated from Florida to his job in Binghamton, he was promised reimbursement for moving expenses, but when his employer found out Michael has a gay partner, he refused to pay the moving expenses. He said he considered it to be the same as paying for the move of a friend or roommate and felt he was not obliged to do that. Michael and Paul are renting a home as they look for a house to buy together in Binghamton. Last year, the owner of one possible rental home asked point-blank if they were gay. When they answered honestly, he refused to rent to them. Danny O’Donnell and John Banta Danny and John, both 43, live together in New York City. They met on their first day of college in 1978 and have been together for 23 years. Danny is the first openly gay man to be elected to the New York State Assembly. Before he took office, he was as a lawyer in both a private public interest-oriented practice and at the Legal Aid Society. John is an administrator with the American Ballet Theatre. Although Danny and John have executed living wills and health care proxies, they worry about whether a hospital would honor these agreements and treat them the same as a married couple if one of them were to become ill. They’re also concerned that they will not be able to exercise control over such intensely personal matters as funeral and burial decisions. Cindy Bink and Ann Pachner Cindy, 45, and Ann, 59, have been a couple for 16 years and live together in West Hurley. Cindy is an administrator at the City College of New York. Ann is a magazine consultant and sculptor. Ann had to pay for her own health insurance, since her work didn’t provide it. As Ann and Cindy have gotten older, they’ve become more and more concerned about the precarious nature of Ann’s health coverage. Eventually, Cindy left her job as a counselor at a community college in New Jersey, where she had worked for 17 years, because the college did not offer domestic partner benefits. She was forced to search for a job that would allow her to cover Ann on her health insurance policy. Ultimately, Cindy found a job working for the City of New York, which offered health care for both her and Ann. Cindy and Ann are very concerned about what would happen if either of them dies. They want to be acknowledged legally by society, and especially seek to be able to share public services like Social Security and health benefits. Kathy Tuggle and Tonja Alvis Kathy, 42, and Tonja, 34, have been together for five years, and live in Schenectady. Kathy is an RN in an emergency room, and once delivered a baby in a van stuck in traffic. Tonja works as a shipping and receiving clerk at a local lighting fixtures store. Tonja has no health insurance because she can’t afford the plan offered by her employer and Kathy’s employer doesn’t offer domestic partner health benefits. The couple has two children, Kathy’s boys from a previous marriage. Kathy and Tonja raised their 18-year-old son together and are still raising their eight-year-old. They are both involved with his school and attend the Parent Teacher Association together. Regina Cicchetti and Susan Zimmer Regina, 57, and Susan, 58, live in Port Jervis and recently celebrated their 34th anniversary. They met 40 years ago when they were both in college, but were just close friends and penpals until they fell in love six years later. Although they’re retired now, Regina and Susan both used to be state employees, working with mentally ill and developmentally disabled people. Regina has survived two life-threatening illnesses – breast cancer in 1996, and a pituitary tumor last year. She says that she could never have made it through these crises without the support of Susan and both their families. Regina and Susan want the security of knowing no questions will be asked about their relationship should one of them be hospitalized in the future. Alice Muniz and Oneida Garcia Alice, 31, and Oneida, 34, live in Brooklyn and have been together for four years. Alice is a New York City police officer, and Oneida is a hotel director. They have two children — Alice’s son, who is 12, and Oneida’s daughter, who is 14. Alice’s son lives with them, and Oneida’s daughter lives with them part time and her father part time. They rent together but have just started looking to buy a house. They’ve been registered as domestic partners for almost two years. Oneida receives domestic partner health insurance through Alice’s job, and her daughter is covered by both Alice’s and her ex-husband’s insurance. A couple of years ago, Alice switched from working nights to days so that she could spend more time with Oneida and the children, even though days pay much less. She says the drop in income has been difficult at times, but that after 9/11 she realized that her family the most important thing in her life. Chelsea Dreher and Laura Collins Chelsea, 68, is retired, and Laura, 60, is a physical therapist. They live in New York City and have been together for 30 years. The couple met in the early 1970’s; Chelsea had made a feminist pamphlet and met Laura at the printer’s office. Chelsea and Laura are domestic partners. Laura does not work for the City, and therefore can’t include Chelsea on her health insurance plan. Their apartment is leased in Chelsea’s name, and they are concerned that if anything were to happen to Chelsea, Laura would have a legal fight to keep their home. They are also concerned that as they get more advanced in age they could be denied rights should one of them be hospitalized. John Wessell and Billy O’Connor John, 62, and Billy, 46, live together in New York City and will soon celebrate their 25th anniversary. In 1985, John and Billy opened a business selling paintings. After 18 years in business together, last summer they cut back on their work hours to spend more time together as they grow older. All of their property, including their home, is jointly owned. John and Billy have made provisions for each other in their wills, but they worry that because they are not married they will have to pay substantially higher inheritance taxes than they would if they were married. The couple is also concerned that as they age, they may run into difficulties with medical decision-making. John’s family is not located in the area, and John would like for Billy to make decisions about his medical care. Michelle and Montel Cherry-Slack Michelle and Montel Cherry-Slack are both 30 and live in Brooklyn. They met in law school in 1996, and have been a couple for four years. Michelle works part-time at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, where she’s also a deacon, and she also works with an agency that provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered seniors with elder care and companionship services. She’s applying to seminary. Montel is a legal services attorney in Harlem, focusing on public benefits and social security for people with low incomes. Their wedding on October 4, 2003 was among the first same-sex ceremonies written up in The New York Times. It was the first time Michelle’s relatives and the couple’s LGBT friends ever met. Michelle’s parents had asked her not to talk about her sexual orientation with other members of her family for many years, but her mother, two younger sisters, and several aunts and uncles all came up from Georgia for the wedding. Michelle was worried that they’d be uncomfortable, but later one of her male relatives told her, “It just never occurred to me that the love that you might have for each other is the same love I think of when I think of my wife.” None of Montel’s family came to the wedding, which was very hard for her. The couple worries that if anything ever happened to Montel, her family might come in and make decisions Montel wouldn’t want. The couple also plans to have children, and worried are about their rights when they start their family.

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