Archive for June, 2013

ABC News Reports on Central PA Couple

June 28, 2013

ABC News Reports on Central PA Couple;
Story First Published by Central Voice

ABC News reports on a central Pennsylvania couple who have found a way around the state’s DOMA law – one adopted the other. Full story below.

Central Voice Link

Gay Man Adopts His Partner to Avoid Inheritance Tax
In States Where Same-Sex Marriage is Still Not Legal, Couples Struggle

June 28, 2013—

John met Gregory at a gay bar in Pittsburgh nearly 45 years ago and immediately fell in love. Today, the couple has weathered the early days of the gay rights movement, the death of friends in the AIDS crisis and constitutional laws in their home state of Pennsylvania that have prevented them from marrying.

Now, as lifelong partners facing the financial and emotional insecurities of old age, they have legally changed their relationship and are father and son — John, 65, has adopted Gregory, 73.

The couple was worried about Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax.
“If we just live together and Gregory willed me his assets and property and anything else, I would be liable for a 15 percent tax on the value of the estate,” said John. “By adoption, that decreases to 4 percent. It’s a huge difference.”

Because John’s dad is still alive at 95, he could not legally have two fathers. So Gregory, though older, became the adopted son. The Daughin County Court judge who signed their papers was adamant in telling them that the adoption was “forever” and they would never be able to legally marry.

John understands people might think it odd that a 65-year-old would adopt a man eight years his senior. (The men asked that their last names not be used; “Gregory”‘s first name has been changed too.)

“It’s humorous to me,” he said. “Gregory was a high school and college jock. Today, I am making dough for blueberry crostata and he is golfing. You’re going to think of him as the dad, rather than me. … But it provided us with some level of comfort that we have protected each other as much as we can.”

Same-sex couples celebrate DOMA’s demise.
This week, the Supreme Court passed its landmark decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing same-sex couples who are legally married to receive the same federal marital benefits as heterosexual ones — inheritance tax breaks and Social Security survivorship, among more than 1,000 others that pertain to marital status.

And Proposition 8, which banned previously legal gay marriage in California, was overturned.

But for those who live in states where gay marriage is not recognized or legally outlawed, there are still obstacles to equality. John and his partner live in Pennsylvania, where a state DOMA law restricts marital benefits to a man and a woman.

“As tremendous as the victory was at the Supreme Court, it was a victory half-finished,” said Janson Wu, a lawyer for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. (GLAD).

“There are still over 30 states where couples are denied the ability to protect their families,” he said. “What you see with [John and Gregory], unfortunately, is what so many couples are still being forced to do. They think of creative ways to ensure protection for each other to make medical decisions and inherit property after one has passed away.”

The couple’s adoption, first reported by the Central Voice, a Pennsylvania newspaper that serves the LGBT community, solved their future financial worries, but does not entitle them to federal benefits that now await same-sex married couples.

Wu said he had seen “a few cases” of same-sex couples resorting to adoption, including a recent one in Maine. “But this is less usual. It is really more of a relic at a time when same-sex couples had no other means to protect their families. ”

In states like Pennsylvania, same-sex families still struggle with health-care decision-making and filing jointly on state taxes. In states where same-sex marriage is not legal, children are often not recognized or a non-biological parent is unable to adopt.

Sometimes, when a couple divorces or a biological parent dies, family members “try to assert legal claims to the child,” said Wu.
In one notorious legal case in 2009, Lisa A. Miller kidnapped her 7-year-old daughter with Janet Jenkins, Isabella, and fled to Nicaragua. Because Virginia, where the family lived, does not recognize same-sex marriage, the law gave no rights to Jenkins.

In John’s case, the couple had considered marrying in another state, but because their primary residence was in Pennsylvania, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, they would still be subjected to the inheritance law.

“We didn’t have the confidence that same-sex marriage would ever be approved in the Commonwealth,” he said.

John and Gregory got the idea for adoption from a 76-year-old friend Nino, who was concerned that his partner worked for a company that didn’t have a pension or retirement fund. The partner’s sole source of income would have been Social Security.
“If Nino predeceased him, his partner could not afford the taxes on the assets and would lose their home and be homeless,” said John.

When the men met, John was a buyer for a department store and Gregory worked for the government.

“In a few years, he took a job … and asked me to come along,” said John. “I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking, with a gay relationship you never know. There’s always someone cuter or prettier.”

But after agonizing, he joined Gregory, who has been retired for 10 years, and never turned back. Eventually, John ran an HIV/AIDS program in the state health department for 25 years, but is now semi-retired.

For years, their relationship was somewhat closeted. John said he was used to openly gay friends in the retail industry, but his family always posed a problem.

“Mine was very Irish-Italian Catholic and made me feel guilty about sex preferences,” he said. “Gregory was very closeted and when his parents would come to visit — they had a habit of dropping in — I would have to run to the bedroom and make sure the beds were pushed apart and put a nightstand between them.”

“I had panic attacks about a sibling swooping down if Gregory predeceased me,” he said. “A couple of siblings are homophobic and I thought, we better get our ducks in a row.”

“I made all my end-of-life arrangements,” said John. “I wanted to be cremated. With my Irish-Italian family, there would have been a four-day viewing and a Catholic mass and I don’t want to put Gregory through that.”

Their lawyer filed all the paperwork and the couple had a 15-minute hearing at the courthouse.

“Apparently, it was their first adult adoption and I was having great angst over that. [The town we live in] is in the conservative Bible Belt,” said John. “What if the judge says no?”
In sworn testimony, the men answered straightforward questions: How long had they known each other? How long had they lived together? How long had they been in their current place?

“Our attorney said we didn’t have to come out and tell him we were gay,” said Folby. “But if asked our sexual preference, I would have to say yes. I was under oath.”

The judge did turn to John and said, “I am really curious, why are you adopting [Gregory]?”

“I said, ‘Because it’s our only legal option to protect ourselves from Pennsylvania’s inheritance taxes,'” said John. “He got it immediately.”

The judge agreed to sign the adoption papers on the spot and handed it to the clerk. Then he turned and looked at John, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.”
Copyright © 2013 ABC News Internet Ventures

Issue Analysis: Adopting Your Partner, Local Couple Tells Their Story

June 24, 2013

In anticipation of US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, see how a local couple worked around PA DOMA

By Frank Pizzoli
Central Voice
Central to your life

Together 44 years, John, 65, and Gregory, 73, are now father and son, so to speak.

Unable to get married in Pennsylvania, the long-time couple has circumvented the state’s prohibition against same-sex unions.

John, 65, who adopted Gregory, his partner of 44 years, in Dauphin County court.

John, 65, who adopted Gregory, his partner of 44 years, in Dauphin County court.

“We adopted one another!” John said, with the smile of a Cheshire cat on his face. In the process, the couple added a layer of protection to their relationship while the state continues to deny recognition of their same-sex relationship.

“We wanted to protect ourselves from higher inheritance taxes that heterosexual couples do no incur upon the death of one or other spouse,” John explained.

Pennsylvania defines marriage as between “one man and one woman,” a measure signed into law in 1996 by then-Governor Tom Ridge, who now supports same-sex marriage. With the US Supreme Court at press time deciding the fate of California’s Proposition 8, Ridge signed an amicus curiae brief asking the court to strike down that state’s voter-passed referendum overturning the state’s law legalizing gay marriage.

Without legal recognition of their relationship, same-sex couples like John and Gregory face punishing sets of rules regarding state and federal estate laws, inheritance laws, joint state and federal tax filing issues, lopsided health insurance tax rules, and difficulties around social security benefits.

John and Gregory didn’t want to wait for a long-sought legislative or court-ruled remedy to the inheritance tax and other discriminations they face.

Even though a May 2013 Franklin & Marshall College poll says 54% of state residents polled favor allowing same-sex couples to marry legally, the for/against marriage equality battle remains at full throttle in The Keystone State.

April 24 Phila. state House Rep. Mark Cohen (D) proposed legislation legalizing civil unions. House Bill 1178 “would amend Title 23 (Domestic Relations) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in marriage, adding a definition; and providing for civil unions.”

In regular words, Cohen’s bill “would make all state laws applicable to marriage also applicable to a civil union.” The bill allows for reciprocity for civil unions performed legally in other states and recognizes same sex-marriages in other states as civil unions in Pennsylvania. Although an unlikely outcome, if passed couples like John and Gregory would have the weight of unfair rules lifted from their relationship.

Cohen calls civil unions a “middle-of-the-road compromise position between constitutionally banning and permitting gay marriages.” Appeasing anticipated religious dissenters, he said, “Nothing in this bill would require any religion or any clergyman to perform any ceremony uniting people in a civil union. This legislation will merely offer committed gay couples the same legal rights that are bestowed upon married people without the status of marriage.”

If passed, couples like John and Gregory wouldn’t have to complete adoption proceedings, itself a circuitous remedy that may not be the solution for other couples.

One good political maneuver prompts another.

May 7 state House Rep. Darryl Metcalfe (R) re-introduced his bill which amends the state Constitution to specify “marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage … shall be valid or recognized.” That’s on top of the state’s existing Ridge-signed DOMA defining marriage as strictly between a male-female.

Last round Metcalfe introduced his bill with 40 supporters. This time the bill has 27 co-sponsors and none, unlike earlier iterations, are Democrats.

Openly-gay Phila. State Rep. Brian Sims said of Metcalfe’s effort: “There is perhaps no better indication of how effectively we are moving forward on the advancement of LGBT civil rights in this state than Representative Metcalfe’s bill. He has been trying to codify his personal religious beliefs surrounding LGBT Pennsylvanians since becoming a representative and each session, he receives less and less support.”

Back in the everyday world where couples are denied legal recognition of relationships, time is of the essence as the state’s slow as molasses legislative process creeps along with hollow appeasements followed by no real progress.

Tales abound within the region’s LGBT community of families interfering with funeral arrangements because same-sex partners have no legal rights.

“One friend lived with his partner for 27 years. They were both previously married, raised kids, served in the military defending their country during war. And the deceased’s family swooped in and legally kept the guy’s partner from attending the funeral. Forced him right out their apartment. Cruel, so cruel,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous because his own family does not acknowledge his relationship. “I worry the same will happen to us,” he said.

“We first heard of the adoption route from a good friend Nino,” John explains. At 86, Nino, and his partner Drew, 68, wanted to achieve peace of mind by knowing their affairs were in order. For example, in Pennsylvania, same-sex couples face a 15% inheritance tax, a tax that is only 4% if a family member inherits.

Attorney Marianne Rudebusch, who handled John, 65 legally adopting his partner, Gregory, 73, in Dauphin County Court.

Attorney Marianne Rudebusch, who handled John, 65 legally adopting his partner, Gregory, 73, in Dauphin County Court.

Longtime friend of John and Gregory, Attorney Marianne Rudebusch, got the legal ball rolling on the adoption proceeding. It started with “I’ll write your will for your birthday gift,” Rudebusch explained, a gesture that eventually ended up in Dauphin County Court as an adoption proceeding.

For one person to adopt another, including same-sex couples, a hearing is required. Judge Bruce F. Bratton heard John’s plea that he be allowed to adopt his partner of 44 years.

“I didn’t find the proceeding difficult although I was understandably nervous,” John shared. He did have to answer Bratton’s questions. That’s the purpose of the hearing which allows a judge to assess the request.

When asked by Bratton why he wanted to adopt his partner, John answered, “For estate planning purposes.” Although known as a conservative judge, meant here that he may stick to more literal interpretations of law, Bratton could find no legal reason to deny John’s request.

“There’s no real reason in state law not to allow these types of adoptions,” Rudebusch says. That said, those thinking about going the adoption route must have a clear understanding of what it legally means, she stresses.

The relationship established “is one of parent and child,” Rudebusch explains. “Bratton’s decision declares John the parent and Gregory the child,” she clarifies. Once granted the decision cannot be reversed.

Further, if the “child” in the proceeding has living parent(s), the legal basis for that relationship is severed and any inheritance from the biological parent would be taxed at the higher rate. If the “parent” has parent(s), nothing changes.

“Clearly, this arrangement is not the answer for every couple. Only couples who can think through the options and level-headedly decide this is their best option to protect financial assets and other arrangements should consider this,” Rudebusch points out.

“But if adoption is the answer, it removes many potential stressors around growing old, types of care that may eventually be needed, and, of course, in reality, death and dying issues,” Rudebusch says with a lawyer’s measured tone. “It can be a source of great joy and comfort,” she concludes.

When he declared the adoption a go, Bratton looked at John said,” Congratulations, it’s a boy.”