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IRS to Gay Newlyweds: Not So Fast

August 5th, 2011

From Bloomberg Businessweek
IRS to Gay Newlyweds: Not So Fast
Federal tax benefits of marriage don’t extend to same-sex couples
By Andrew Zajac

bloomberg-businessweek-logoFor all those same-sex newlyweds in New York, Lawrence S. Jacobs has a message: Enjoy the Champagne and the honeymoon, but expect no gifts from the IRS. Jacobs, a lawyer in Washington, specializes in estate planning for same-sex couples-and in delivering the bad news that their unions aren’t legal in the eyes of the IRS, a policy that will cost them time and money during tax season.

Same-sex couples in Washington, which last year legalized gay marriage, must fill out a federal return to make calculations required for their D.C. joint return. But then they must set that work aside and fill out separate federal returns because the IRS doesn’t regard their union as legal, Jacobs says. “You just spent decades getting your marriage recognized, and now the feds say, ‘No, you’re not,’” says Jacobs, who as a partner in a same-sex marriage has firsthand experience of the problem.

This cumbersome process applies to all married same-sex couples in the U.S. It comes courtesy of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defines marriage as “a legal union between a man and a woman as husband and wife.” The Obama Administration, saying DOMA is unconstitutional, has instructed federal agencies to do what they can under existing law to extend benefits to same-sex partnerships. Such rule-stretching doesn’t go far with the IRS, says Brian Moulton, an attorney with the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington gay rights advocacy group. “There’s a relatively small space before you bump up against DOMA,” he says. “I don’t think there’s much they can do.” The IRS declined to comment.

Filling out a “dummy” federal return can add $300 to $400 to a same-sex married couple’s tax preparation bill, according to Larry Rubin, a partner at accounting firm Aronson in Rockville, Md. As a result of DOMA, gay couples must also pay income tax on a portion of employer-provided health insurance, which isn’t taxable for heterosexual married couples.

The costliest potential consequence of the IRS’s treatment of same-sex couples involves the estate tax. A heterosexual husband or wife generally can inherit any amount of money or property from his or her spouse without paying tax. A same-sex spouse inheriting a large estate, by contrast, can face a tax bill of as much as 35 percent on anything above $5 million. That situation spurred a New York widow, Edith Windsor, to sue the government last November seeking to get the IRS to return $363,000 in taxes on an inheritance from her spouse, Thea Spyer. Windsor is working with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers to repeal DOMA. “It’s a matter of fundamental fairness,” says Rose Saxe, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping represent Windsor. “The government shouldn’t be excluding one group of married couples from these important protections.”

The bottom line: Even where they can marry, gays face disadvantages such as higher estate taxes and tax-prep fees $300-$400 more than straight couples.

Zajac is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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When to Update Your Living Will

June 8th, 2011

Be sure to review your Living Will periodically. Living Wills are easily modified to reflect changes in your health, finances, or perspective on end-of-life care. Even if your wishes don’t change, a Living Will should be regularly updated to take into account changes in medical technology. Consider updating your Living Will when you need to:

  • Change or set limits on medical care to meet your ability to pay
  • Respond to changes in medical technology
  • Respond to a change in health care laws
  • Respond to a changes in your health, including: decline, terminal diagnosis, possibility of surgery and hospitalization, or pregnancy
  • Designate a different person to make health care decisions for you
  • Move to a new state
  • Respond to changes in your beliefs and wishes concerning end-of-life care
  • Respond to the death of a loved one or significant other

Remember that new documents will generally supersede old ones - in other words, executing a new Living Will has the effect of revoking a prior Living Will.

Update your Living Will with LegalOut.

Article by RocketLawyer.

Living Will

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Protect Your Wishes and Family

March 31st, 2011

Happy Spring. LegalOut wishes you a bountiful & joyous spring!

A new spring brings the traditional spring cleaning, a good time to organize, decide on priorities, and get your home in order. Spring is also an excellent time to review your legal situation and make sure that you have essential legal documents to ensure your wishes and family are protected. Check out some important legal documents below or for more information or other legal documents visit Create Legal Docs>>

Prepare Legal Documents

Last Will and Testament
Protect Your Loved Ones: A Will is a document under which a Will writer states his or her intentions regarding the persons or organizations (”Beneficiaries”) who will receive the Will writer’s property, and the person or organization (”Executor”) who will carry out the Will writer’s wishes. Click here to prepare a Last Will and Testament>>

Living Will/Advance Directive for Healthcare
Protect Your Wishes: A Living Will authorizes an agent of your choosing to communicate your life-support decisions to medical personnel in the event that you are unable to do so. A Living Will spares your family the anguish of making life-support decisions without your input. A Living Will also ensures that your doctor understands your end-of-life wishes and treats you accordingly.Click here to prepare a Living Will/Advance Directive for Healthcare>>

Domestic Partnership Agreement
Protect Your Partnership: A Domestic Partnership Agreement is a document that a couple can enter into to dictate their contractual rights as a couple. It is also used to outline the responsibilities of each partner when a couple decides to form a long-term committed relationship, such as how to share income and pay bills and whether property is meant to be jointly or individually owned. Click here to prepare a Domestic Partnership Agreement>>

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Why a Living Will is Important

February 4th, 2011

Recently, The South Florida Gay News.com posted a significant article, “Beyond Living Well is a Living Will” by Jarret Terrill about the importance of preparing a living will. This article highlights the challenges people may face without a living will, a form of an Advance Care Directive.

Advance medical directives pertain to treatment preferences and allow you to appoint someone you trust (a family member, close friend, or partner) - to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.

A living will is a written document that specifies what types of medical treatment are desired. A health care proxy names a specific person to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Many gay men and women are faced with anti-gay family members that they would not entrust an “end of life” decision to. Without a living will issuing advance directives, Florida hospitals would be bound by law to follow the directives of distant family members over a lover’s wishes.

A living will, also known as an Advance Care Directive, is a document that tells doctors, attorneys and law enforcement which person in your life is responsible for executing decisions you’ve made about your healthcare if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Says Daniel W. Humbert, a Fort Lauderdale Attorney who has developed a specialty in estate planning,  “a General Power of Attorney is very broad in scope and tends to give the Attorney-In-Fact (the person you designate) the power to do virtually anything. A living will is quite different.”

Humbert says that a living will is “where you can express your wishes for what they call extraordinary life-saving measures. This would be particularly important for a person who becomes incompetent or goes into a coma or something like that.”

“A living will is essential for everybody, but it’s particularly important to the gay community,” says Humbert.  Laws and regulations concerning those extraordinary circumstances and the decision-making process favor family members. Since the legal definition of a family member varies from state to state, this can pose a problem if you don’t have a living will.”

Click here to read the entire article>>

Without legal documents you are at risk of not having your wishes carried out in the event that something unexpected occurs. If you are in a committed relationship, you may want your significant other to be able to make medical and legal decisions for you, should you unable to make them yourself.  You would like to plan for the future of your family to ensure they are taken care of when you are gone. Even if you are not in a committed relationship, you want to make decisions about your own life and future without unwanted intrusions from others.

Prepare Legal DocumentsLegalOut’s online resource center provides the LGBT community with affordable legal document solutions.  We provide easy-to-use tools for customizing your documents online, in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace and provides hundreds of do-it-yourself legal documents including living wills, domestic partnership agreements, power of attorney documents, last will and testament, and many others.

By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision.

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How Do I Change a Will After it Has Been Signed?

January 12th, 2011

If you have a Will and need to make some changes, learn how to make a change by watching a Free legal help video form our partner RocketLawyer. You cannot simply cross out a sentence or add a new sentence to change your Will. You must either create a ‘codicil’ which is an amendment to your Will, or create a new Will.

Click here to view the Free Legal Help video to learn more.

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Give the Gift of Estate Planning!

December 17th, 2010

Christmas GiftsThe 2010 holiday season is upon us which means holiday dinners, holiday travel and shopping for gifts. A gift to consider this holiday season is the gift of estate planning. Legal documents provide you and your loved ones with a peace of mind.

LGBT individuals especially need to be proactive to ensure that their plans for the future reflect their own wishes and are not dictated by laws that do not fit their life and relationships. Did you know that unless otherwise specified in many states, probate laws generally provide if a person dies without a Will, their property goes to family, rather than a partner they had a relationship with for years and the state determines who gets your assets, not you. Without an estate plan, your loved ones would have the burden to decide what your wishes are in times of crisis. Preparing legal documents will secure your wishes and help loved ones know what your intentions are during times of crisis.

Give the gift of estate planning for yourself or loved ones and you’ll have peace of mind for many holidays to come.

Let LegalOut help you give the gift of estate planning, visit our legal documents center.

Top Reasons Individuals Put Off Preparing Legal Documents

Often times, people put off creating legal documents. We know we need to do something, but we wait. Why do we wait? Here are some common reasons why we defer making a decision:

  • We do not want to think about dying or being incapacitated.
  • We do not know where to begin.
  • We think we do not have any assets. People assume they have to be rich or married with children to create a Will.
  • We procrastinate- people know they need to create an estate plan but put it off.
  • Legal costs are high.

Can you identify with one of these reasons of putting off estate planning? Without legal documents you are at risk of not having your wishes carried out in the event that something unexpected occurs. If you are in a committed relationship, you may want your significant other to be able to make medical and legal decisions for you, should you unable to make them yourself.  You would like to plan for the future of your family to ensure they are taken care of when you are gone. Even if you are not in a committed relationship, you want to make decisions about your own life and future without unwanted intrusions from others.

LegalOut can help you avoid putting off creating legal documents. LegalOut’s online resource center provides the LGBT community with affordable legal document solutions.  We provide easy-to-use tools for customizing your documents online, in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace and provides hundreds of do-it-yourself legal documents including living wills, domestic partnership agreements, power of attorney documents, last will and testament, and many others.

By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision.

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Chicago Tribune: Business Securing the future as life partners

August 20th, 2010

From the Chicago Tribune: Securing the future as life partners
If you don’t want to - or can’t - marry, it’s critical to stitch together some legal protections

By Jane Bennett Clark, Tribune Media Services
1:20 PM CDT, August 19, 2010

Julie Kurland and Marcia Diehl live in a Victorian home in Takoma Park, a leafy Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. The couple take turns walking their dog, Cody, past the 1920s bungalows and gabled Victorians that line the streets of their neighborhood. On Sundays they wander over to the farmers market and spend the rest of the day gardening or reading on their wide front porch.

It’s a routine that befits any contented couple. But Kurland, 46, and Diehl, 56, are not married, nor would their union be recognized federally or in all but five states. And while a California court case regarding the legality of same-sex marriage winds its way through the appeals process (likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court), there still remains this present-day reality:

Gay couples, and straight couples who’d prefer not to marry, lack the legal structure that protects married couples’ rights on everything from property division to end-of-life decisions. Instead, they must create their own framework.

“It’s much more important for gay couples to have their documents lined up,” said Kurland. “We have to be sure we have our t’s crossed and our i’s dotted.”

Regardless of who you’re partnered to, if you commit to each other without tying the knot, these steps will help you avoid being caught in legal limbo:

Powers of attorney: Diehl’s parents, who are deceased, never acknowledged her relationship with Kurland. Had Diehl suffered a health crisis that rendered her unable to make her own decisions, “they would have thought it was their privilege, not Kurland’s, to make the decisions for me,” said Diehl. In most states, spouses and blood relatives take priority over nonrelatives in the absence of a document that specifies otherwise.

Diehl and Kurland assigned each other a health-care power of attorney, a state-specific document (available free at doctors’ offices, hospitals and on the Internet) that lets each make medical decisions on the other’s behalf. They also gave each other a durable power of attorney, which conveys the right for each to make financial and legal decisions for each other. A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as you sign it or upon a triggering event. Consult a lawyer about the choices.

Put it in writing: As singles, “you only have rights to something in the other’s name if there is a written agreement,” said Frederick Hertz, co-author of “A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples” (Nolo, $34.99). A cohabitation contract, like a prenuptial, lets you formalize financial and living arrangements while you are together and spell out who gets what if you break up. Drawing up a contract can run a few thousand dollars for a simple agreement, to $25,000 for a complex one. Consult a lawyer.

Wills: Without a legal will, your estate will be divvied up according to state intestacy law, which generally favors spouses, children and other relatives, not significant others. To avoid leaving your partner in the lurch, spend the $300 or so necessary to have a lawyer draw up a will or do it yourself online.

If you are the biological parent and want your partner to raise your child after you die, be sure that you nominate him or her as the personal guardian. As with any guardianship, the court has to sign off on the nomination, but it generally respects the legal parent’s wishes, with one significant exception: The other legal parent — say, a former spouse — is willing and suited for the job.

Establish joint ownership: In some states, married couples or those with marital rights can title jointly owned property as tenancy by the entirety. Each spouse owns the entire property, and neither can sell without the other’s OK. When one spouse dies, the survivor inherits the property, avoiding probate.

Unmarried couples may own property two ways: tenancy with the right of survivorship and tenancy in common. With the first, you own the property 50-50. When one of you dies, ownership passes to the survivor automatically. You can sell or give away your half, but you can’t bequeath it to someone else. Some unmarried couples choose this setup to avoid the public process of probate or as backup to a will. Tenancy in common is more flexible: It lets you own unequal shares of the property, and, if you sell, you walk away with whatever percentage you contributed.

Keep track of gifts: Married couples in the eyes of Uncle Sam can give each other unlimited assets without tax consequences. But unmarried heterosexual couples and all same-sex couples are considered “legal strangers” for federal tax purposes, said Dana Levit, a financial planner in Boston and president of PridePlanners, a nonprofit financial-education group. That awkward status requires you to report gifts to each other of more than $13,000 a year (as of 2010). The excess counts against each individual’s $1 million lifetime federal gift-tax exemption.

Even if you’re not in the habit of writing each other fat checks, you could exceed the $13,000 limit by, say, putting your partner on the title to a house you own. Although most people never reach the $1 million limit, you lessen your risk by transferring assets incrementally, said Hertz. “Give early, often and in small amounts.”

Also be careful to document your contributions to any joint property owned as tenancy with the right of survivorship. Lacking evidence to the contrary, the IRS assumes that the entire property belonged to the first person to die and calculates the estate-tax obligation accordingly. Keeping separate bank accounts helps clarify who paid for what, said Carrie Aburto, a financial adviser at Aspen Wealth Management in Denver.

Minimize your taxes: As single filers (same-sex married couples, in states that legally permit same-sex unions, generally have to file as marrieds on their state taxes and as singles on their federal taxes), you can allocate your deductions to maximize the tax benefit. For instance, the partner who earns more income can pay the mortgage and deduct the interest, while the other partner takes the standard deduction.

“Taxes are one area in which it’s often good to be gay,” said Levit.

Likewise, if you have a child, one of you can claim the child as a dependent on your federal tax return. Assuming that the same parent provides more than 50percent of the child’s support, he or she also can file as head of household, which usually results in a lower tax bill. Couples with two kids may be able to split the difference, each claiming one child as a dependent and filing as head of household.

As singles, you have a good chance that at least one of you will fall below the income limits for tax benefits or tax-preferred accounts. Say one of you has an income that exceeds the limit for contributing to a Roth IRA, (which in 2010 is $120,000 for singles; $177,000 for married couples filing jointly) and the other has earned income that falls below the limit, the one who earns less can still establish a Roth IRA.

Provide for your survivor: You won’t have access to spousal Social Security benefits, but each of you can still name the other as beneficiary of your retirement accounts. Nonspousal beneficiaries of IRAs and 401(k) plans can take distributions from an inherited retirement account over their lifetime.

As for life insurance, leave enough so that each of you will be able to live comfortably if the other dies first. These days, term-life policies come cheap. A 50-year-old woman in good health can pick up a 20-year term policy with $500,000 of coverage for about $700 to $850 a year. A healthy 50-year-old man can buy the same for about $950 to $1,200.

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Check out LegalOut’s affordable online solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind! Through our simple, easy-to-follow online tools powered by RocketLawyer.com, you’ll quickly and easily create affordable legal documents — all in the privacy of your own home.

Knowledge is the first step to protection. For more information visit LegalOut - Protection 101 or click on the legal documents below for more details:

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Are you one of the 70%?

August 11th, 2010

Did you know that national statistics indicate that over seventy percent (70%) of Americans die without creating a Last Will and Testament or other estate plan? This is a staggering statistic; it means that 70% of adults are letting others make decisions for them.

Are you one of the seventy percent? Do you really want someone else to make tough decisions on your behalf in times of crisis?

Here are some reasons why people do not create a Will:

  • Do not want to think about dying or being incapacitated.
  • Do not know where to begin.
  • Think they do not have any assets. People assume they have to be rich or married with children to create a Will.
  • Procrastination - people know they need to create an estate plan but put it off.
  • Legal costs are high.

What happens if you do not have a Will or Estate Plan:

  • State determines who gets your assets, not you.
  • Probate laws generally provide if a person dies without a Will, their property goes to family, rather than a partner they had a relationship with for years or decades.
  • Not having a Will may cause disagreements or lawsuits between your partner and your family.
  • Your loved ones would have the burden to decide what your wishes are in times of crisis.

Legal DocTypes of Estate Planning Documents

No one wants to think about his or her own death, but taking the time now to complete some basic documents can save you and your family much heartache later. You’ll get more peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be followed and your family and friends will be taken care of. Listed below are some basic estate planning documents:

Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament allows you to set out your specific wishes for how you want your property and assets to be divided upon your death. It also designates who will assume guardianship responsibility of any minor children if neither parent can serve as guardian. You can use a will to make bequests to charities. Wills are easy to prepare, but are subjected to probate process, which, depending on the size of your estate, could take some time.

Living Will
A Living Will is a legal document used to specify your wishes for end-of-term health care decisions. It states that you do not want life-prolonging treatment if there is no hope of recovery, for example in the event of terminal illness or irreversible coma. Having a Living Will lets others know what your wishes are when you are unable to communicate them yourself.

Durable Power of Attorney
You can grant a Power of Attorney to another person (called your agent) for any case where you cannot represent your own interests. For example, you can send an agent to an important meeting you are unable to attend, and they may act on your behalf for the duration of that meeting. A Durable Power of Attorney, on the other hand, remains in effect if you become incompetent. In cases of terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness, you can set out health care directives for your agent, much like in a Living Will.

Hospital Visitation
This authorization is used to give visitation rights to a person who is not a legally recognized family member, should you become unconscious or unable to communicate yourself. You should have this document if you want your partner or someone who is not considered a family member by the state to be able to visit you in the hospital, should you become unable to communicate for your wishes.

Domestic Partnership Agreement
The Domestic Partnership Agreement is a document that a couple can enter into to dictate their contractual rights as a couple.

You can find all these legal documents and other estate planning forms on Legalout.com. Our online interview makes it easy to create these important documents - get started now for a piece of mind!

Online Legal Wills Provide an Affordable Solution
Everyone should have a Last Will and Testament, and the document should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Preparing and maintaining your Will doesn’t have to be time consuming, difficult, or costly. Knowing that an hour of an attorney’s time can cost $200 or more, many people put off preparing their Wills. However, you don’t have to use the services of an attorney to create an effective Will. You and the other members of your family can create your own Online Legal Will easily and inexpensively.

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Protecting Your Wishes: Importance of Preparing Legal Documents

July 2nd, 2010

The LGBT community has seen great strides in equality the past couple of years, with certain states passing marriage equality laws for same-sex couples. However, there is still a federal ban, Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA), that restricts about 1,138 benefits from same-sex couples and many states do not recognize any form of same-sex couple marriage benefits.

For example, did you know that unless otherwise specified in many states, only legal spouses or family members - not lifelong partners - can visit you in the hospital should you be unconscious? Or that vital decisions like power of attorney can default to a biological family member who doesn’t even know what you wishes are or they may not “agree with” your sexual orientation.

Marriage laws for same-sex couples vary from state to state, county by county, without any legal documents it will be harder to protect your wishes such as direct who you want to visit you in the hospital in case of an emergency; name a specific person to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself or state the medical treatments you desire in times of a crisis.

family

Advance legal planning protects an individual’s right to make their own health care and financial choices and prevents unnecessary suffering for families who may struggle with these decisions later on. It is a proactive process that enables the individual to make decisions about their future, along with family members, health care providers and counsel, prior to their physical and cognitive decline.
If you are in a committed relationship, you may want your significant other to be able to make medical and legal decisions for you, should you unable to make them yourself. You would like to plan for the future of your family to ensure they are taken care of when you are gone.

Even if you are not in a committed relationship, you want to make decisions about your own life and future without unwanted intrusions from others. By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision. Because, unfortunately, LGBT individuals cannot rely state and/or federal laws to take care of them.

At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents: Hospital Visitation Authorization, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Domestic Partnership Agreement.

Often times, people put off creating legal documents, we know we need to do something, but we wait. We defer making a decision. Why do we wait? Our reasons are different. Some reasons are:

  • lack of time
  • budget concerns
  • not knowing exactly what we need
  • we don’t want think about death or crisis situations
  • we don’t want to have the conversation.

But such planning is essential for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals and couples, whose basic civil rights, depending on state legislation, can be severely restricted. LGBT individuals need to be proactive to ensure that their plans for the future reflect their own wishes and are not dictated by laws that do not fit your life and relationships or individuals who are not involved in your life and relationships. Legal documents can provide you legal and emotional security in the event that something unexpected occurs.

Once you have prepared legal documents, there’s one more essential step that many people don’t think about until there’s an emergency - you need to keep those documents somewhere safe, yet easily accessible. Make sure to give copies to your health care agent, trusted family member, your partner or anyone you trust that should have your directives. It’s also vital to carry them with you, especially if you are traveling throughout the United States or going abroad. In case of an emergency you want to make sure you have your documents on hand to show hospital staff or any other person that may need to see proof of your wishes.

Marriage Recognition:
• State issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples (5 states and the District of Columbia). Connecticut (2008), District of Columbia (2010), Iowa (2009), Massachusetts (2004), New Hampshire (2010) and Vermont (2009).

• State recognizes marriages by same-sex couples legally entered into in another jurisdiction (2 states) Maryland (2010) and New York (2008).

• California had legal same-sex marriage for about five months in 2008.

LegalOut provides you with affordable solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind!

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From the Irish Times: “Civil to One Another”

July 2nd, 2010

Civil to one another

Fri, Jul 02, 2010

As the Civil Partnership Bill goes through the Dáil, Fiona McCann talks to three couples about how it will affect their relationships

‘We consider ourselves to be as good as married, so we consider this to be almost ticking a box’

Michael Walsh, partner in the law firm BryneWallace, and Des Crowley, doctor, have been together for 12 and a half years. They plan to become civil partners, and have a civil partnership ceremony already organised for later this month, with a blessing in the Unitarian Church followed by a meal and celebration for friends, family, colleagues and business associates.

Ceremony already organised for this month: Des Crowley (left) and Michael Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson

Des Crowley (left) and Michael Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson

MICHAEL : We consider ourselves to be as good as married, we consider ourselves to be family . . . so in some respects we consider this to be almost ticking a box. But going through a process of preparing for the Civil Partnership ceremony has been an enlightening experience for us because it actually has brought new definition to our relationship, and brought about a renewed commitment.

DES : Initially, for me anyway, it was about just protecting the legality of the relationship . . . but I have been really surprised how the experience of the last month or six weeks has actually changed that and how much more important it has become to me.

MICHAEL : There have been certain elements of the LGB community who might have rejected the whole notion of civil partnership because it’s not full marriage. And whereas I agree in part with the sentiment that what will be provided for in law doesn’t go far enough, it certainly goes far enough for us to be acceptable, particularly in our own individual circumstances.

DES : Ultimately it is down to the practical issue of our home together, the tax situation, the pension situation, and what is really important for us is our next of kin. Because it’s extraordinary that . . . even though you may be living with a person for 12 years, if anything was to happen to you and you were unable to make your own decision, that the people that they turn to is your parents.

MICHAEL : For me the ceremonial aspect of it is really important, and although we are together 12 years, we haven’t yet stood in front of our nearest and dearest and said ‘this is it’. And to have the opportunity now to do this and for it to also mean something from a legal point of view is fundamental.

DES : While it would have been preferable if the legislation had included the rights for gay parents to adopt, there is an expediency about it as well. If you continue the next five or 10 years fighting for that right, in the meantime so many other situations are not regularised, and some people do not have the luxury of time. They’re unwell, or they’re elderly, and there are a lot of complicated legal issues that need to be sorted out for these couples.

MICHAEL : I’ve been writing to the Minister every fortnight, explaining to him the date of our blessing and how important it is that the Bill would have cleared through the main house of the Oireachtas before our date . . .What is important to us is the certainty that it will happen, so we decided to press the button with the sense that it was effectively a done deal . . .

I’m sure we’ll look back in years to come and wonder why it took so long for the State to finally recognise that it isn’t a bad thing to recognise love between consenting adults and a love that’s about long-term commitment and the creation of family.

‘This Bill is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist’

Orla Egan-Morley and Catherine Egan-Morley have been together for more than eight years, and have a four-year-old son called Jacob. Catherine is director of Southside Travellers Action Group, and Orla is training and development officer with BeLonG To youth services.

ORLA : It should be a day for celebration and I just feel really disappointed that the politicians haven’t had the courage to legislate for equality and take a child-centred approach to the legislation. [This Bill] is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist.

CATHERINE : I feel let down for my son because it doesn’t acknowledge his place; It doesn’t make any reference to his rights to have two parents, which he has . . . It hits me very deeply because I am his non-biological parent. It hits me on an equality level, but it also hits me on a gut level.

ORLA : Jacob asked me recently, “What’s marriage? What’s a wedding?”. And I said, “Sometimes when people love one another very much it’s a ceremony they do to mark that love.” He looked at me and Catherine and said “We all love one another, why can’t we get married?” How do you explain to a four-year-old that there are some people who think your family is not worth protecting? . . . I don’t care about the money stuff; I care about the rights of my child. I could get up in the morning and take him away from one of his parents and neither he nor she would have any right to fight back.

CATHERINE : We’ve been living together for almost eight years. We own our home together. . . it only takes one person to look at the letter of the law, and if I have him in the hospital and he has a broken leg, I won’t be allowed to make any decisions because I’m not his legal parent or guardian. Right now in the eyes of the country we live in, in the place that we’re committed to, where we bought our home and live our lives, Orla is a lone parent and I’m a single woman . . . The most public commitment we could ever make to each other is have a child together.

ORLA : We spent a long time planning to have Jacob . . . we changed our names by deed poll so that we all shared the same surname, Egan-Morley. We made sure we had our wills in order, we took as many legal steps as we could, but the bottom line is that there is no legal relationship there between Jacob and one of his parents . . . We don’t want to go somewhere else to get married and not have that marriage recognised here.

I want to be able to get married, and have Jacob have a formal legal relationship with both of his parents in the country where he lives.

‘The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that’

Don McClave and Wil Matthews have been together for seven years. Don is an Apple Mac specialist and technical support operative and Wil is a public servant. They had a Civil Partnership ceremony in Belfast earlier this year.

DON : It was pretty much love at first sight - we moved in together after about six months. We’d both been aware of marriage and civil partnership as a political issue, but around the time we were five years together, we said we’d really like to do this. We decided that if we waited for the pace of legislative progress here, we’d all be dead and buried.

We could have gone to Spain or Canada and gone for a full marriage, but that wasn’t practical for economic reasons, and since such marriages weren’t going to be recognised here - we’d been following the Zappone-Gilligan case - we thought we’d be more realistic about it. Civil partnership in Belfast was doable.

WIL : We went up to lodge our petition to have our Civil Partnership in December, and we had it on the 17th of April . . . We had some family members who were not getting any younger and we wanted them to have the day out, and we wanted to be able to get up in front of our loved ones and make a declaration of love for one another . . . It was a really joyous occasion. And even though we’ve been together seven years, our relationship feels different now.

Even though we’re not recognised here, we’ve no legal standing, to us it just feels different. The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that and everyone should be entitled to having that celebration with family and friends. It’s not a gay right; it’s just a fundamental human right.

DON : Every step is progress, and we welcome this Civil Partnership Bill, but even so, it’s not enough. We want marriage: not gay marriage, just marriage for all . . . [with this new Bill] presumably when we can present our certificate and have it recorded and acknowledged, we can look at practical things.

There have been some situations where Wil’s been in hospital and I haven’t been able to go through with him to the A&E procedures. So having that kind of recognition, that would give some measure of protection with a hospital official . . . And in the areas of social welfare, inheritance, next-of-kin rights, immediately we have some kind of status.

WIL : While this bill is fantastic and we do welcome it, we will gain some rights and entitlements, but not all, and we’re very clear about that: there’ll be many that we won’t be entitled to.

DON : They’re picking and choosing where they confer equality, but you can’t have equality where you are creating a separate legal classification for same-sex couples.

© 2010 The Irish Times

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