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By Mubarak Dahir
William Ross shouldn’t be homeless.
But he is. Because in Texas, like in so many places in America, a loving relationship between two people of the same sex means nothing at all in the eyes of the law.
Ross says he was partners for seven and a half years with John Green, who died at age 55 in January 2003.
The two men were lovers and business partners as well, running and managing an antiques consignment shop, says Ross. He says he took care of every aspect of the business, from running the books to cleaning the toilets.
And now, a judge in Texas says Ross might as well have been nothing more than the maid.
When Green died, he did not leave a will that specified who should receive his assets, including a townhouse, a home in suburban Houston, a 1996 Mustang, and stocks valued at approximately $88,000.
Ross says that a month before his death, Green made out a notarized deed leaving him the suburban home and the car.
But Green’s son, Scott Goldstein, sued Ross for the house and car, as well as money he says Ross spent that belonged to his father’s estate. Goldstein claims that his father was too sick a month before his death to be mentally capable of making the decision to leave Ross the house and car.
In the court battle between the two men, Ross argued that the court should invoke something called the “marriage-like relationship doctrine” that would essentially recognize him as the surviving spouse and give him similar rights, benefits and claims.
That doctrine is recognized in some states, such as Washington State and New York state, and is invoked in those places to give surviving partners similar rights as surviving spouses.
But guess what? Texas isn’t New York.
A judge ruled that under Texas law, Ross is not recognized as a surviving spouse and therefore deserves none of the benefits a spouse would be entitled to.
In other words, the seven and a half years that Ross and Green spent together as partners and lovers means nothing as far as the state of Texas is concerned. Their relationship shouldn’t even be considered, the judge essentially ruled.
Even non-married heterosexual couples often get recognized in court battles as being in a “common law” relationship. And the fact that such a relationship existed definitely impacts how the courts divide up property.
But in this case in Texas, and in so many other places across the country, property means more to a judge and a court than a seven and a half year relationship between two people.
So – as is the case in so many instances when something like this happens with a gay or lesbian couple, the surviving partner was left at the mercy of the deceased person’s family.
And the problem in this case is that Scott Goldstein seems to have no mercy.
And that means that, at least for now, William Ross is without a home of his own.
In a brutal twist of irony, Ross says that he encouraged his former partner, Green, to re-establish ties with his son, Goldstein. The father and son had been estranged for years, and the son had taken on his stepfather’s last name when the man adopted him.
Though Ross’s case is an unfortunate one, it is not unique. In most places in America, the partner of a deceased gay or lesbian person is going to be hugely dependent on the good will and personal relationship he or she has with the surviving biological family members.
Sure, a will and other legal paperwork stating the rights of the partner can go a long way in helping to protect gay and lesbian survivors against greedy, vindictive or anti-gay family members.
But even those are not foolproof, and can often be contested.
If there remained any shred of doubt in the minds of gays and lesbians why we need to fight a national battle to win marriage rights, William Ross stands as proof of why this is such an important battle for all of us.