By Arthur Z. Schwartz
WestView broke a story last October about Tom Doyle, who lived with his husband, Bill Cornwell, on Horatio Street, in a house Bill owned, for over 50 years. (The New York Times picked up the story from WestView and ran with it.) When Bill died in 2014, he left the house to Tom. However, his will was technically deficient. In swooped Bill’s niece and nephews, who claimed ownership in the New York County Surrogate’s Court and put the building up for sale.
Our office filed suit for Tom to correct this injustice. We argued that Tom and Bill had a common law marriage, which had been established during summer vacations in Pennsylvania. (New York will recognize an out-of-state common law marriage.)
In court, the nieces and nephews argued that Pennsylvania didn’t recognize gay marriage until the Supreme Court forced it to in 2014, just before Bill’s death. So we began to explore retroactive application of that decision, and we found a growing number of such cases in Pennsylvania.
Tom’s case had one problem: All of his and Bill’s friends in Pennsylvania were long gone. However, Tom’s story was quite compelling, and that is what we worked to convey.
An end to this fight is now near. A settlement has been reached subject to court approval. Tom will get a large share of the proceeds from the sale AND will live in his apartment for the rest of his life, for $10.00 per month. He will be able to enjoy life and be secure.
Stay tuned. The resolution should occur this summer.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and President of Advocates for Justice, a Public Interest Law Firm.