Together in life, apart in illness
The horrifying case of an Indiana gay couple separated after one partner's incapacitating illness makes clear the necessity of partners obtaining legal directives for each other to the extent the law allows.
Brett Conrad and Patrick Atkins, both 47, met in college and were together for 25 years. Atkins was CEO of his family's company, Atkins Elegant Desserts; Conrad, a waiter. They shared a house and bank accounts; both men's names were on their home's deed. In March 2005, traveling on business, Atkins suffered an aneurysm and then a stroke that rendered him unable to care for himself.
Atkins' deeply religious parents took over, refusing to recognize the men's relationship or even to let Conrad see him. Conrad has spent two years trying to win guardianship of his partner.
On June 27, an Indiana appellate court ruled that Conrad could have visitation rights. The Atkinses have petitioned the court to reconsider its ruling.
"Unmarried couples – it doesn't matter whether straight or gay -- ought to have documents in place that address whom they want to make health care decisions, generally a durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive," Conrad's lawyer, Jeffrey Dible of Indianapolis, told Gay.com.
"If you don't have them, you are at the mercy of state law, which usually favors blood relatives."
Indiana courts have so far sided with the Atkins family, even while noting that "it is in Patrick's best interest to continue to have contact with Brett, his life partner of 25 years."
"Given the Atkinses' lack of support of their son's personal life through the years and given his mother's astonishing statement that she would rather that he never recover than see him return to his relationship with Brett, we are extraordinarily skeptical that the Atkinses are able to take care of Patrick's emotional needs," wrote Chief Judge John G. Baker in the appellate court's ruling.
At one point, the court noted, sympathetic hospital staffers were sneaking Conrad onto the premises to see his partner.
Jeanne Atkins, Patrick's mother, "testified that no amount of evidence could convince her that Brett and Patrick were happy together," the opinion read.
The case's growing publicity "just seems to inflame things," Dible told Gay.com
"I hope that you will share this story with your friends and encourage them to avoid purchasing Atkins products," wrote Karen Celestino-Horseman, a former Indianapolis city councilwoman, on Bilerico.com.
The Atkinses -- who run regular Christian prayer meetings at their dessert company -- have the right as guardians to dispose of his and Conrad's house, even though it is owned jointly. A lower court gave Conrad one third of the pair's checking account, but gave the parents most of the other assets, which were in Patrick's name.
Atkins, meanwhile, now lives at his parents' home. He is "able to walk, dress, bathe and feed himself with some help, to read accurately but understand only 25 percent of what he read, and to engage in simple conversations," according to the court.
(Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)