Gay Widower Fights For NYC Home Of 55 Years In Ugly Property Dispute

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This sort of thing was supposed to have ended when marriage equality was legalized, but apparently it’s a reality that queer couples must still face: when a partner dies, evil family members swooping in to seize the couple’s possessions with no regard for their decades-long relationship.

It used to be far more common. Without legal marriage equality, most LGBT couples had no protections. You could create complex legal arrangements to try to mimic the rights of marriage, but you could never come close. As a result, the worst years of the AIDS epidemic were compounded by surviving partners who lost their spouses and their homes.

Now it’s happening again in New York. Tom Doyle is the widower of Bill Cornwell. The two men never married, and when Bill died, his nieces and nephews decided that they should have the right to seize the home that the two men occupied. Bill left a will saying that the house should go to Tom, but it was only signed by one witness instead of two, so it’s technically invalid.

Even though Bill’s intent was clear, his rotten relatives don’t care. They called Tom a “friend” or “companion,” and are trying to make him leave.

His best chance at defeating them seems to be a tricky legal argument: back in the 1990s, the couple once visited a state that recognized common law marriage at the time, and as a result, he says, their relationship should have been considered a marriage. Oh boy, that really sounds like a stretch, legally-speaking.

Of course, many couples opt not to get married. You don’t need to have a document to have a meaningful relationship. But this sad saga is a reminder of just how important those legal protections are.

matt baume

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