There are still some frontiers to cross for gay and lesbian New Yorkers.
WestView ran a story back in May 2016 about Tom Doyle, a 57-year resident of Horatio Street whose life partner, Bill Cornwell, had passed away in 2014 without leaving a technically-proper will. Bill’s nieces and nephews had swooped in and claimed to be heirs, despite the fact that “Uncle Bill” wanted his property to go to Tom.
Due to age and infirmity, Bill and Tom hadn’t gotten married after gay marriage was legalized in New York in 2011. The rings sat on the kitchen table, not used. Tom felt cheated and went to see Advocates for Justice and met with me, seeking recognition of his “marriage” to Bill.
It took some digging, but we discovered that New York inheritance cases recognized “common law” marriages created in other states. One of those states was Pennsylvania, and Tom and Bill had frequently vacationed there. They had been there enough that if they were straight, New York would recognize their marriage.
So on September 27th, Tom filed with the Surrogate Court. But the nieces and nephews responded immediately, arguing that Pennsylvania didn’t recognize gay common law marriage, so the New York Surrogate Court had to say no. Meanwhile, they have found a buyer for Tom and Bill’s house, seeking a $7 million windfall. Three of the four nieces and nephews had no relationship with Bill. They want New York Surrogate Nora Anderson to perpetuate Pennsylvania’s discrimination against gays and lesbians. We are arguing, in response, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges mandates that Bill and Tom’s marriage be recognized.
Stay tuned…This is a big one.
—Arthur Z. Schwartz